“Implacable”: Russia squeezes Ukrainian strongholds in the east

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russian-backed separatists claimed to have captured a railroad town in eastern Ukraine as Moscow forces pushed to gain more ground on Friday by pounding another Ukrainian-held area where authorities say 1,500 people have died since the war began.

As the Russian offensive in Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region shows gradual progress, Ukrainian officials have characterized the battle in serious terms and renewed their calls for more sophisticated weapons supplied by the West.. Without this, the Ukrainian foreign minister warned, Ukrainian forces will not be able to stop Russia’s eastward advance.

Some European leaders have sought dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end a war in its 93rd day that has ravaged both Europe and Russian economiesas Britain’s Foreign Secretary struggled to rally continued Western support for Ukraine.

“We must not talk about a ceasefire or appeasement of Putin. We have to make sure Ukraine wins. And that Russia stands down and we will never see this type of Russian aggression again,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

But in eastern Ukraine, Russia has the upper hand. Friday’s fighting focused on two key towns: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. These are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbass and where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled certain territories for eight years.

“There are battles on the outskirts of the city. The massive artillery shelling does not stop, day and night,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press. “The city is systematically destroyed – 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”

An assault was underway in the northeast quarter of the city, where Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups attempted Friday to seize the Mir Hotel and the area around it, Striuk said.

At least 1,500 people have died in Sievierodonetsk due to war since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, he said.

The figure includes those killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated illnesses, lack of medicine or that they were trapped under the rubble, according to the mayor.

There are around 12,000 to 13,000 people left in the town – down from a pre-war population of around 100,000, he said. Those who remain are crammed into shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine.

In Donetsk, the other province in the Donbass region, Russian-backed rebels said on Friday they had taken control of Lyman, a major rail hub north of two other key towns that remain under Ukrainian control.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich acknowledged that “we lost Lyman” on Thursday night. However, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported on Friday that its soldiers countered Russian attempts to push them out of the city altogether.

Ukrainian analysts said Russian forces took advantage of delays in Western arms deliveries to step up their offensive in the east and secure territory before Ukrainian fighters could push them back.

Russia has sent an additional 10 to 12 battalion tactical groups to the area, military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

Throwing so much muscle on the offensive could also backfire by seriously depleting the Russian arsenal. Echoing a UK MoD assessment, Zhdanov said Russia was deploying 50-year-old T-62 tanks, “meaning the world’s second army is running out of modernized equipment.”

Mykola Sunhurovskyi, an analyst at the Razumkov Center in Kyiv, said that in the future, “it is in Putin’s interest to solidify the situation that has developed today on the front line, to bite at Ukraine what there is still strength for, and to secure that line of contact”. as a position in (possible) negotiations.

As Ukraine’s hopes of stopping the Russian advance faded, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations: “We need heavy weapons. The only position where Russia is better than us is the amount of heavy weapons it has. Without artillery, without multiple rocket launcher systems, we will not be able to repel them.

In his nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had harsh words for the European Union, which has not agreed to a sixth round of sanctions including an embargo on Russian oil. With Hungary blocking the dealEU countries are looking for other methods to punish Russia.

“The pressure on Russia is literally about saving lives,” Zelenskyy said. “And every day of delay, weakness, various disputes or proposals to ‘appease’ the aggressor at the expense of the victim, new Ukrainians are killed. And new threats to everyone on our continent.

Zelenskyy said Russia’s offensive in Donbass could leave its communities in ashes and uninhabitable. He accused Moscow of pursuing “an obvious policy of genocide” through mass deportations and killings of civilians.

On Thursday, the Russian shelling of Kharkiv, a northeastern city that came under attack as Ukrainian forces blocked invading troops from entering, killed nine people, including a father and his 5-month-old baby, said President.

Associated Press reporters saw the bodies of at least two dead and four wounded men at a central subway station, where the victims were taken as shelling continued outside.

To the north, neighboring Belarus announced on Friday that it was sending troops to the Ukrainian border, raising concerns within the Ukrainian military command. Russia used Belarus as a transit ground before invading Ukraine.

Germany’s development minister visited Ukraine on Friday to pledge additional civilian support and discuss the country’s reconstruction. The Austrian Chancellor, meanwhile, was due to discuss possible prisoner exchanges with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi spoke with Putin on Thursday but reported no breakthrough. “If you ask me if there are any openings for peace, the answer is no,” Draghi told reporters.

Putin and Draghi’s conversation focused on the issue of unblocking Ukrainian ports to allow the delivery of grain to countries suffering from a food crisis and avoid the risk of stores rotting in the port.

Moscow on Thursday urged the West to lift sanctions already imposed during the war, seeking to shift blame for a growing global food crisis this has been compounded by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products while under attack.

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Karmanau reported from Lyiv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and AP reporters around the world contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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