Russian forces fight to encircle Ukrainians to the east

  • Russian forces bomb 40 towns in eastern Ukraine – military
  • Mass graves for killed civilians – Governor of Lugansk
  • 8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war in Luhansk and Donetsk – TASS

KYIV, May 26 (Reuters) – Russia has shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s Donbass region, destroying nearly a dozen high-rise buildings, authorities said on Thursday, as forces in Moscow sought to encircle their Ukrainian enemies, outnumbering them in some places.

After failing to capture the Ukrainian capital kyiv or its second city Kharkiv in its three-month war, Russia is trying to take full control of Donbass on behalf of the separatists. The industrial region includes the provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk.

Russia has deployed thousands of troops to the area, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces standing in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin, Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the entire Luhansk province under Russian control, a primary Kremlin war objective.

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“Everything is now focused on the Donbass,” Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denisenko told a press briefing.

He said the situation was very tense as 25 tactical groups of Russian battalions attempted to surround Ukrainian forces.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces Joint Task Force said the Russians bombed more than 40 towns in the region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school.

“As a result of this bombardment, five civilians died and 12 were injured,” he said on Facebook, adding that 10 Russian attacks had been repelled, four of its tanks and four drones destroyed and 62 “enemy soldiers ” you are beautiful.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said 11 high-rise buildings were destroyed in Sievierodonetsk and eight in Lysychansk.

Zelenskiy said Russian troops vastly outnumbered Ukrainian forces in parts of the east and kyiv had tried unsuccessfully to arrange a prisoner swap with Moscow.

“MANY PRISONERS”

The number of Ukrainian POWs held in the Russian-backed self-declared people’s republics of Luhansk and Donetsk is increasing every day, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

“There are a lot of prisoners,” Miroshnik said. “Now the total number is around 8,000. That’s a lot, and literally hundreds are being added every day.”

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the battlefield reports from either side.

As Russia seeks to tighten its grip on territory it has seized, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of newly captured districts to acquire Russian citizenship and passports. Read more

Russia’s parliament on Wednesday scrapped the upper age limit for contract service in the army, stressing the need to replace lost troops. Read more

In a late-night video address, Zelenskiy, commenting on Russia’s new enlistment rules, said: “(They) don’t have enough young men anymore, but they still have the will to fight. It will still take time. time to crush that will.”

Zelenskiy said this week that the conflict could only end with direct talks between him and Putin.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

Ukraine and the West say Russian forces have targeted civilians and engaged in war crimes, charges Russia denies. A 21-year-old Russian tank commander was jailed for life this week after being convicted of war crimes for killing an unarmed civilian.

Lysychansk police are burying the bodies of civilians in mass graves, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. Some 150 people were buried in a grave in one district, he added.

Families of those buried could reburial after the war, and police are issuing documents allowing Ukrainians to obtain death certificates for their relatives, Gaidai said.

FOOD CRISIS

Russia blocked ships from southern Ukraine that would normally export grain and sunflower oil through the Black Sea, driving up prices globally. The African Union on Wednesday urged the two countries to unblock grain and fertilizer exports to avert widespread starvation. Read more

Russia blamed harsh Western sanctions for the food crisis. He said on Wednesday he was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying food, but wanted sanctions lifted in return. Read more

Economic pressure mounted on Wednesday when the United States failed to extend Russia’s license to pay bondholders, bringing it closer to the brink of a historic default.

The waiver has allowed Russia to maintain public debt payments so far. Read more

The European Commission has proposed making non-compliance with its sanctions against Russia a crime. Read more

The EU also said it hoped to agree sanctions on Russian oil before the next meeting of EU leaders.

But Russia, for now at least, is not short of money. Oil and gas revenues rose to $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices. Read more

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gareth Jones

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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