- Key to the Battle of Severodonetsk to Donbass – Zelensky
- The industrial city is destroyed, Luhansk governor
- Ukrainian forces withdraw to the outskirts of the city
- Russian forces outnumber Ukrainian forces in Donbass – United States
Kyiv/SLOVENIA, Ukraine, June 9 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s president has said the battle for the city of Severodonetsk is a brutal one and will determine the fate of the Donbass region, as Russian forces destroy the city in an offensive targeting it. control of eastern Ukraine.
After failing to capture the capital, Kyiv, the Kremlin says it is now seeking to completely “liberate” Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists broke from Ukrainian government control in 2014.
The separatists controlled about a third of Donbass before the invasion on February 24.
Register now to get free unlimited access to Reuters.com
“This is a very brutal, very difficult battle, and perhaps one of the toughest of all this war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video statement on Wednesday.
“Severodonetsk remains the focus of confrontation in the Donbass … To a large extent, this is where the fate of Donbass is decided now,” he added.
Ukrainian fighters withdrew to the outskirts of the city on Wednesday but vowed to fight there for as long as possible.
“The enemy fired at our units mortars, artillery and multiple rocket launchers. It fired at civilian infrastructure in the settlements of Severodonetsk, Lysichansk, Previlia, Ustinivka, Horsky and Katrinivka,” the Ukrainian General Staff said on Thursday.
Russia denies targeting civilians.
Artillery bombardment turned the city in Luhansk Province, Ukraine into a bombed-out wasteland. The governor of Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said the city center was being destroyed.
Gaidai said that a chemical plant was bombed in Severodonetsk and four civilians were killed in the area during the past 24 hours.
Gidayi said that Ukrainian forces still control all of the small, twin city of Lysekhansk in Severodonetsk on the west bank of the Seversky Donets River, but that Russian forces are destroying apartment buildings there.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the situation on the ground in either city.
Kyiv’s ambassador to the United States told CNN that Ukrainian forces were significantly outnumbered in Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up Donbass, a largely Russian-speaking region.
But “as we have already seen in the battle of Kyiv, we can temporarily lose something. Of course, we are trying to reduce it because we know what (can) happen (when) the Russians take over the territories, but we will take it back,” said Oksana Markarova.
Gaidai said that Russia now controls more than 98% of Luhansk.
“God save me”
West of Severodonetsk in Slovyansk, one of the main Donbass cities in the hands of Ukraine, women with young children lined up to collect aid on Wednesday while other residents carried buckets of water around the city.
Most residents have fled, but authorities say about 24,000 are still in the city, on the way to an expected offensive by Russian forces that have regrouped in the north.
Albina Petrovna, 85, described the moment when there was an attack on the building she was staying in, smashing the windows of her home and destroying her balcony.
“Broken glass fell on me, but God saved me,” she said. “I have scratches everywhere.”
The Ukrainian military said that four people were killed during Russian bombing of about 20 towns in Donbass in the past 24 hours, and that its forces killed 31 Russian soldiers. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the numbers.
In Solidar, Donetsk, residents took shelter in cellars as shells hit the town on Wednesday.
Said a resident, who did not give her name.
Antonina, 65, sobbed at her residents, and asked, “When are you going to finish?”
The Kharkiv Regional Emergency Department said two people were killed and four injured in a fire that broke out as a result of the bombing and spread to a cafe, grocery store and school library.
Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “discredit” its neighbor. Ukraine and its allies say Moscow launched an unprovoked war of aggression that has killed thousands of civilians and razed cities to the ground.
UN figures show that more than 7 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Fear of pills
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, and Western countries accuse Russia of creating the threat of global famine by blockading Ukraine’s ports on the Black and Azov seas. Moscow says Western sanctions are to blame for the food shortage.
Turkey is trying to mediate negotiations to open Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu received Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday and said a UN-backed deal on the ports was possible with further talks. Read more
Lavrov said Ukrainian ports could be opened, but Ukraine would have to clear them first. Ukraine dismissed the Russian assertions as “hollow words” and said Russian attacks on farmland and agricultural sites were exacerbating the crisis.
Vitaly Kim, the governor of the Mykolaiv region, where Russian bombing destroyed warehouses of one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural commodity terminals at the weekend, told Reuters that Moscow was trying to intimidate the world into meeting its terms. Read more
The Kremlin quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that Western sanctions must be lifted in order for Russian grain to reach the market. Read more
Speaking at Yale University Business Leaders Summit via video link on Wednesday, Zelensky said he believed Russia would not seek a diplomatic end to the war unless the world supported Ukrainian forces in their fight.
“We are an independent, just and normal country,” Zelensky said, adding of his war efforts: “We’re doing it on our soil and slowly pushing them back. That’s how we’re going to keep moving.”
Register now to get free unlimited access to Reuters.com
Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Ramy Ayoub and Michael Perry. Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Lincoln Fest and Kim Coogill
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”