Russian troops ‘storm’ city in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials say

Russian and Ukrainian troops engaged in close-quarter fighting in a city in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as soldiers of Moscowsupported by heavy shelling, tried to gain a strategic foothold to conquer the region, despite fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian troops “stormed” Sievierodonetsk after unsuccessfully trying to surround the city. The fighting cut power and cell phone service, and a humanitarian aid center was unable to operate due to the danger, the mayor said.

Sievierodonetsk, located about 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of the Russian border, has emerged in recent days as the epicenter of Moscow’s quest to conquer the entire industrial Donbas region of Ukraine. Russia also stepped up efforts to take nearby Lysychansk, where civilians rushed to escape continued shelling.

The two cities are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk province, which together with neighboring Donetsk make up the Donbas. Russia, after failing to take Ukraine’s capital, has aimed to occupy parts of Donbas 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 obtained from social media video.

VIDEO RECORDED BY REUTERS


Russian forces have made small strides in recent days as bombing raids chewed on Ukrainian positions and trapped civilians in basements or desperately tried to escape safely. Attacks to destroy military targets across the country have also killed civilians

In his video address on Saturday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as “very complicated” and “indescribably difficult”. The “Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result” by focusing 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 possible before fleeing the Russian advance.

Yana Skakova swallowed the tears as she described how she left with her sons aged 18 months and 4 years, while her husband stayed behind to care for their home and animals. The family was one of 18 people who had lived in a basement for the past 2 1/2 months until police told them it was time to evacuate on Friday.

“None of us wanted to leave our hometown,” she said. “But because of these small children, we have decided to leave.”

Sievierodonetsk mayor, Oleksandr Striuk, said there was fighting at the city’s bus station on Saturday. Residents risked exposure to shelling to draw water from half a dozen wells, and there was no electricity or cell phone, Striuk said.

Striuk estimates that 1,500 civilians in the city, which had a pre-war population of about 100,000, have been killed in Russian attacks since the start of the war, as well as from a lack of medicines and diseases that could not be treated.

The Institute for the Study of War. a Washington-based think tank questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of launching a massive military effort to take Sieverodonetsk, saying it would prove expensive for Russia and yield little return.

“When the Battle of Sieverodonetsk ends, regardless of which side the city is on, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have reached its peak, giving Ukraine the opportunity to resume its counter-offensive at the operational level to withdraw the Russian forces. pressure,” the institute said. said in a review published late Saturday.

Deteriorating conditions raised fears that Sieverodonetsk could become the next Mariupol, a port city 281 kilometers (175 miles) to the south that was under siege for nearly three months before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.

After Russian troops took full control of Mariupol, they piled up bodies of dead people in a supermarket in the occupied city, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol said on Sunday.

The assistant, Petro Andryushchenko, posted a photo on the Telegram messaging app of what he described as a “corpse dump.” 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 described as recent.

“Here the Russians bring the bodies of the dead, which have been washed from their graves during attempts to restore the water supply, and have been partially exhumed. They simply dump them as garbage,” he wrote.

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

On Saturday, he said, a civilian fell and four were injured after a Russian shell hit an apartment building.

But some supply and evacuation routes in Luhansk were still functioning Sunday, he said. He claimed that the Russians had retreated “with losses” around a village about 20 kilometers (12 mi) southeast of Sievierodonetsk, but had launched air raids on another nearby village on the strategic Siverskiy Donetsk River.

The Ukrainian army said on Sunday that Russian troops were also trying to fortify their positions around Lyman, a small town that serves as a major railway junction in the Donetsk region.

Moscow claimed Lyman on Saturday. to have takenbut Ukrainian authorities said their fighters were still 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. “It’s trying to gain a foothold in the area.”

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

More broadly, Russia launched renewed airstrikes overnight on the northern regions of Kharkov and Sumy, and in central Ukraine, Ukrainian government agencies said.

The emergency service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said on Sunday morning that Russian shelling had caused fires around Kharkov, the country’s second largest city. Russia has continued to bomb Kharkiv, located in northeastern Ukraine, after Ukrainian forces pushed back its troops from positions near the city several weeks ago.

Kharkiv’s regional prosecutor’s office said a Russian shell broke through the room of a house early on Sunday, wounding a 50-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman in the town of Zolochiv, about 40 kilometers (20 miles) northwest of Kharkiv.

The Ukrainian Border Guard said border areas in the Sumy region, east of Kharkov, were hit with six unguided missiles. The agency did not report any casualties.

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

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

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