Russian troops are “storming” a town in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials say

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Russian and Ukrainian troops involved in a hand-to-hand combat in a town in eastern Ukraine on Sunday Moscow soldierssupported by intense shelling, tried to gain a strategic footing in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance to conquer the region.

Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian forces “stormed” Sievierodonetsk after unsuccessfully attempting to encircle the city. The fighting has paralyzed electricity and cell phone services, and a humanitarian aid center is unable to operate because of the danger, the mayor said.

Sievierodonetsk, some 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of the Russian border, has in recent days become the epicenter of Moscow’s bid to conquer all of Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region. Russia also stepped up efforts to take nearby Lysychansk, where civilians rushed to escape the sustained shelling.

The two cities are the last large areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk province, which together with neighboring Donetsk forms the Donbass. Having failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Russia is focused on occupying parts of the Donbass not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

A view of a destroyed building after shelling amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, May 22, 2022, in this still image taken from social media video.

VIDEO BY REUTERS


Russian forces have made little headway in recent days as bombing raids nagged Ukrainian positions, trapping civilians in basements or desperately trying to get out safely. Attacks to destroy military targets across the country also claimed civilian casualties

In his video address on Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as “very complicated” and “indescribably difficult”. The “Russian army is trying to extort at least some result” by concentrating its attacks there, he said.

Civilians who reached the eastern city of Pokrovsk, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Lysychansk, said they held out as long as they could before fleeing the Russian advance.

Yana Skakova choked back tears as she described walking away with her sons, 18 months and 4 years old, while her husband stayed behind to look after their house and animals. The family were among 18 people who had been living in a basement for the past two and a half months until police told them on Friday it was time to evacuate.

“None of us wanted to leave our hometown,” she said. “But for the sake of these little kids, we decided to leave.”

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said fighting broke out at the city’s bus station on Saturday. Residents risked exposing themselves to shelling to get water from a half-dozen wells, and there was no electricity or cellphone service, Striuk said.

Striuk has estimated that 1,500 civilians in the town, which had a pre-war population of about 100,000, have died from Russian attacks since the war began, as well as from shortages of medicine and untreatable diseases.

The Institute for War Research. a Washington-based think tank questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of waging a massive military effort to take Sieverodonetsk, saying it would be costly for Russia and bring little profit.

“When the Sieverodonetsk battle ends, the Russian offensive will likely have peaked at the operational and strategic level, regardless of which side is holding the city, giving Ukraine a chance to resume its operational counter-offensives to push back Russian forces ‘ the institute said in an assessment published late Saturday.

Deteriorating conditions raised fears that Sieverodonetsk could become the next Mariupol, a port city 281 kilometers to the south that was under siege for nearly three months before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.

After Russian forces took complete control of Mariupol, they piled bodies of dead people in a supermarket in the occupied city, an adviser to Ukraine’s Mariupol mayor said on Sunday.

The aide, Petro Andryushchenko, posted a photo of what he called a “dump” on the messaging app Telegram. It showed bodies stacked next to closed supermarket counters.

It was not immediately possible to verify his account or the authenticity of the photo, which Andryushchenko called new.

“This is where the Russians bring the bodies of the dead, washed out of their graves and partially exhumed in attempts to restore water supplies. They just throw them away like garbage,” he wrote.

Haidai, the Luhansk provincial governor, said the constant shelling created a “serious” situation in Lysyhansk. “There are dead and wounded,” he wrote on Telegram, without elaborating.

On Saturday, he said, one civilian died and four were injured after a Russian shell hit a high-rise apartment building.

But some supply and evacuation routes in Luhansk were still functioning on Sunday, he said. He claimed the Russians retreated “with casualties” around a village some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south-east of Sievierodonetsk, but launched air raids on another nearby village on the strategic Siverskiy Donetsk river.

Ukraine’s military said Sunday that Russian forces were also trying to strengthen their positions near Lyman, a small town that serves as a major rail junction in the Donetsk region.

Moscow claimed on Saturday to have taken Lymanbut Ukrainian authorities said their fighters continued to be engaged in fighting in parts of the city.

“The enemy is strengthening its units,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in an operational update. “She’s trying to gain a foothold in the area.”

The Ukrainian army said heavy fighting was ongoing around the provincial capital, Donetsk.

In addition, Russia launched renewed airstrikes overnight on the northern Ukrainian regions of Kharkiv and Sumy, as well as in central Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said Sunday morning that Russian shelling had caused fires near Kharkiv, the country’s second-biggest city. Russia has continued a bombardment of Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine after Ukrainian militants pushed back its forces from positions near the city a few weeks ago.

The Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said a Russian shell injured a 50-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman early Sunday in the town of Zolochiv, about 40 kilometers northwest of Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s border guard service said border areas in the Sumy region east of Kharkiv were hit by six unguided rockets. The agency did not mention reports of casualties.

Russia claimed its forces destroyed a key Ukrainian ammunition depot in the eastern town of Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskyi’s hometown. High-precision missiles hit a depot located “in one of the industrial enterprises” in the city, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Ukrainian emergency services confirmed that “an industrial facility” in Kryvyi Rih caught fire after being hit by two Russian missiles and suffering “significant damage”. Officials did not say if it was used as a military depot.



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