A Donetsk People’s Republic militia’s multiple rocket launcher fires from its position in eastern Ukraine. AP
Russia claimed to have overrun a key rail hub while its troops fought Ukrainian defenders in the streets of another city in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the railroad centre Lyman had been “completely liberated’’ by a joint force of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists.
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Meanwhile, nearly 40 miles (60 kilometres) to the east, Russian troops on Saturday sought to encircle Ukrainian defenders in the manufacturing center of Sievierodonetsk, where the fighting cut power and cellphone service and terrorised the civilians who hadn’t fled.
This satellite image shows damaged buildings and tank on the road in Lyman, Ukraine. AFP
Having failed to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv early in the 3-month-old war, the Russians set out to seize parts of the eastern industrial region Donbas not already controlled by pro-Moscow separatists. They made grinding progress in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up the Donbas.
Control of Lyman would give Russia’s military another foothold in the region. It has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets river, which has so far impeded the Russian advance into the Donbas.
Ukrainian officials have sent mixed signals on Lyman. On Friday, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian troops controlled most of it and were trying to press their offensive toward Bakhmut, another city in the region. On Saturday, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar disputed Moscow’s claim that Lyman had fallen, saying fighting there was still ongoing.
A Donetsk People’s Republic militia serviceman gets ready to fire with a man-portable air defence system. AP
In his Saturday video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation in the east as “very complicated’’ and said that the “Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result’’ by focusing its efforts there.
As his offensive pushed ahead, Russian President Vladimir Putin pressured European leaders to stop arming the embattled Ukrainians and blamed Western sanctions for an emerging global food crisis. The Kremlin said Putin pressed his case in an 80-minute phone call Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron urged an immediate cease-fire and a withdrawal of Russian troops, according to the chancellor’s spokesperson, and called on Putin to engage in serious, direct negotiations with Zelensky on ending the fighting.
This photograph shows the damaged building of a university in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday. AFP
A Kremlin readout of the call said Putin affirmed “the openness of the Russian side to the resumption of dialogue.” The three leaders, who had gone weeks without speaking during the spring, agreed to stay in contact, it added.
But Russia’s recent progress in eastern Ukraine could further embolden Putin.
“If Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion,” the British Ministry of Defense said in a Saturday assessment.