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Russians enter outskirts of Ukraine city

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KYIV: Russian troops have entered the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, according to the regional governor, who described fierce fighting on Monday over the ruins of a city that has become the focus of Moscow’s offensive.

The European Union has sought to make Moscow pay a heavy price for invading Ukraine, but leaders arriving for a summit acknowledged they were unlikely to pass a new round of sanctions yet, having failed to agree to ban imports of Russian oil.

Russia has concentrated its firepower on the last major population centre still held by Ukrainian forces in the eastern Luhansk province, in a push to achieve one of President Vladimir Putin’s stated objectives after three months of war.

Incessant shelling has left Ukrainian forces defending ruins in Sievier­odonetsk, but their refusal to withdraw has slowed the wider Russian offensive across the Donbas region. Luhansk region governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had advanced into the city’s southeastern and northeastern fringes.

Zelensky says two-thirds of Sievierodonetsk’s housing stock destroyed

The Russians “use the same tactics over and over again. They shell for several hours — for three, four, five hours — in a row and then attack”, Gaidai said.

“Those who attack die. Then shelling and attack follow again, and so on until they break through somewhere.”

With temperatures rising, he said there was a “terrible smell of death” on the outskirts of the city. But he said Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka to the south, potentially frustrating Moscow’s push to encircle the area.

Gaidai later said a French journalist had been killed by shrapnel that pierced his vehicle, and that evacuations from the area had been halted.

In a televised speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky descri­bed capturing Sievierodonetsk as “a fundamental task for the occupiers”.

“Some 90 per cent of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the city’s housing stock has been completely destroyed,” he said.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Moscow was also trying to regroup to attack the strategically important town of Sloviansk, further west.

After failing to capture Kyiv in March, Russia announced that the focus of its “special military operation” was now to seize the entire Don­bas region, consisting of two provinces, Luhansk and Donetsk, that Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday said the “liberation” of the Donbas was an “unconditional priority”.

Capturing Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river would give Russia effective control of Luhansk province, a point at which the Kremlin might be able to declare some form of victory.

But by focusing its effort on a battle for the single small city — Sievierodonetsk housed only around 100,000 people before the war — Russia might be leaving other territory open to eventual Ukrainian counterstrikes.

The past few days have seen initial signs of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south, where Moscow is trying to consolidate its control of Kherson province.

Kyiv says its forces pushed back Russian troops in recent days to defensive positions in three villages — Andriyivka, Lozove and Bilohorka — all located on the south bank of the Inhulets River that forms the border of Kherson.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2022

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