Zelensky defiant as Russia intensifies attacks in east, seizes territory

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Drone footage shows an artillery strike amid military presence in Toshkivka, Luhansk, Ukraine, on Monday. Reuters

Ukraine acknowledged difficulties in fighting in its east as Russian forces captured territory and intensified pressure on two cities ahead of an EU summit this week expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc.

The governor of the Luhansk region, scene of the heaviest Russian onslaughts in recent weeks, said the situation was “extremely difficult” along the front line as of Monday evening and the Russian army had gathered sufficient reserves to begin a large-scale offensive.


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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had predicted Russia would step up attacks ahead of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. In an address to the nation on Monday evening, he was defiant, while also referring to “difficult” fighting in Luhansk for Sievierodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk.

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Smoke from artillery strikes rises over damaged buildings amid military presence in Toshkivka, Luhansk. Reuters

“We are defending Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, this whole area, the most difficult one. We have the most difficult fighting there,” he said. “But we have our strong guys and girls there.”

Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian forces controlled most of Sievierodonetsk, apart from the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have been sheltering for weeks. The road connecting Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire, he said.

“Lysychansk has been suffering from massive Russian shelling all day. It is impossible to establish the number of casualties,” Gaidai said.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said its forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with firefights erupting in a number of towns.

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A Ukrainian tank is in position during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk, Luhansk. AP

“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

Approval by EU leaders for Ukraine to become an official candidate to join the bloc would be a triumph for Kyiv.

It applied for membership just four days after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. It would take years to attain, but for the EU to reach deep into the heart of the former Soviet Union would bring about one of Europe’s biggest economic and social transformations since the Cold War.

Attritional phase

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to degrade its military capabilities and root out what it calls dangerous nationalists.

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Search and rescue workers and local residents take a dead body from under the debris in Lysychansk, Luhansk. AP

It has introduced a law making the spread of “knowingly fake” information or reporting that could discredit the Russian military an offence.

Dmitry Muratov, the co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and editor of an independent Russian newspaper, auctioned off his Nobel medal for a record $103.5 million to aid children displaced by the war. His paper, fiercely critical of President Vladimir Putin, suspended operations in Russia in March after warnings over its coverage of the war.

The war has entered a brutal attritional phase in recent weeks, with Russian forces concentrating on Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Donbas, which Russia claims on behalf of separatists.

Reuters

 

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