- Street fighting rages in the industrial city in the east of the country
- “The situation is difficult in the East,” says Zelensky.
- President tries to mobilize forces in rare visit to the frontline
- Putin warns US against giving Ukraine long-range missiles
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukrainian and Russian forces fought street fighting for control of the industrial city of Severodonetsk on Monday in a battle pivotal to the Kremlin’s offensive in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
It was not clear which side had the upper hand, Oleksandr Stryuk, head of the administration in Severodonetsk, said on television, as “the situation has changed from hour to hour.”
The city became the main target of the Russian offensive in the Donbass – which includes Luhansk and Donetsk provinces – as the Kremlin’s conquest continued in a war of attrition that led to the destruction of cities by artillery shells.
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Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russia was throwing its troops and equipment into the largest remaining Ukrainian-controlled city of Luhansk.
The situation worsened after Ukrainian defenders expelled the Russians at the weekend as they looked on the verge of victory, provincial governor Serhiy Geday said earlier on Monday.
At a media briefing later in the capital, Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation was “difficult in the east”.
He added: “We are in control of the situation, there are more (the Russians), they are stronger, but we have every chance to fight. If there is a (Russian) breakthrough in the Donbass, it will be very difficult.”
Street fighting was raging, Stryuk said, and neither side was preparing to withdraw. Both sides say that each has inflicted heavy casualties.
Ukraine’s military said in its nightly update that civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Monday, and that Russian forces had fired on more than 20 towns.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the battlefield reports. Russia denies targeting civilians in the conflict.
Russia says it is on a mission to “liberate” Donbass – which has been partly controlled by Moscow’s separatist proxies since 2014 – after Ukrainian forces pushed their forces from the capital, Kyiv, and Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, in the early stages of the war.
Zelensky sought to build up his forces on Sunday by visiting two cities close to the front lines.
“What you all deserve is victory – that’s the most important thing. But not at any cost,” Zelensky said in a video. Read more
He said he’s traveled to Lysychansk, south of Sievierodonetsk, and Soledar—his rare outings outside Kyiv since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
Russia has described its action in Ukraine as a “special military operation” to eliminate what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed this as nonsense and say Russia is an unjustified war to seize territory that could turn into a wider European conflict.
In a coordinated move with the United States, Britain said it would provide Ukraine with multiple launch missile systems that can strike targets 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, providing more accurate and long-range firepower to reach Russian artillery batteries. A key element in the plans for the Battle of Moscow.
Zelensky said that Kyiv was gradually receiving “specific anti-ship systems”, and that this would be the best way to end the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea that prevents grain exports.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond to Western shipments of long-range weapons by pushing Ukrainian forces away from Russia’s borders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that Russia would hit new targets if the West provided long-range missiles. On the same day, Russian missiles struck Kyiv for the first time in more than a month.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Russian forces were also advancing towards Sloviansk, about 85 km west of Severodonetsk.
Ukrainian soldiers 60 km south of the front line near Bakhmut said the situation was difficult, but they had no choice but to push back the Russians.
A unit commander calling himself Maxim appealed to the allies of Ukraine for more weapons.
“With more anti-tank weapons, we will be able to destroy their tanks and cause maximum damage and the enemy will be forced to flee where they came from,” he told Reuters. “…we will fight for every piece of this land.”
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said that Russian forces had reinforced their positions in the Kharkiv region and bombed Ukrainian positions to retain the lands they had occupied.
Western countries imposed unprecedented broad and severe sanctions on Russia because of its invasion.
On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had imposed personal sanctions on 61 US officials, including the secretaries of treasury and energy, and senior defense and media executives. She added that the move came in response to the “continued expansion of US sanctions.”
(This story corrects the attribution in paragraph 2).
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Additional reporting by Natalia Zenets, Pavel Politiuk, Lydia Kelly and Ronald Bobsky; Writing by Angus McSwan and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and John Stonestreet
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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