Sievierodonetsk mayor says Russian forces seize half the city

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) β€” Russian forces in a “frenzied push” have seized half of Sievierodonetsk, the city in eastern Ukraine that is key to Moscow’s efforts to complete the conquest of the industrial region of Donbass, the mayor said on Tuesday.

β€œThe city is basically being ruthlessly destroyed block by block,” Oleksandr Striuk said. He said heavy street fighting continued and artillery barrages threatened the lives of some 13,000 civilians still sheltering in the ruined town that once housed more than 100,000 people.

A Russian airstrike on Sievierodonetsk hit a nitric acid tank at a chemical plant, causing a huge smoke leak, according to Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haidai. He posted a photo of a large cloud hanging over the city and urged residents to stay indoors and wear gas masks or makeshift masks.

Haidai said later on Tuesday that “most of Sievierodonetsk” was under Russian control, although he added that fierce fighting continued and the town was not surrounded.

Sievierodonetsk is important to Russian efforts to capture Donbass before more Western weapons arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defense. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the region for eight years and held swaths of territory even before the invasion.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the United States would provide Ukraine with the most advanced rocket systems its leaders have been asking for. In an essay published in The New York Times, Biden said the rocket systems will allow Ukraine “to hit key targets more precisely.”

U.S. officials, speaking ahead of Biden’s announcement on condition of anonymity, said Washington would send Ukraine a small number of medium-range, high-tech rocket systems. The rockets could be used both to intercept Russian artillery and to eliminate Russian positions in cities with heavy fighting, such as Sievierodonetsk.

The rocket systems would be pulled from US inventory, which would quickly get them to Ukraine. Ukrainian troops would also need training on the new systems, which could take at least a week or two.

Sievierodonetsk, which is 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of the Russian border, is in an area that is the last pocket under Ukrainian government control in the Luhansk region. The Donbass is made up of the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.

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Striuk said more than 1,500 residents have died of various causes since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Evacuation efforts from Sievierodonetsk were halted due to shelling.

“Civilians are dying from direct hits, fragmentation wounds and under the rubble of destroyed buildings, as most residents are hiding in basements and shelters,” Striuk said.

Electricity has been cut and people need water, food and medicine, the mayor said: “There is still food for several days, but the question is how to distribute it”.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation in Donbass remains “extremely difficult” as Russia has brought “maximum combat power” to its military there.

At least three people were killed and six injured overnight in a Russian missile strike on the city of Sloviansk, west of Sievierodonetsk, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. . A school was among several damaged buildings.

A crater was dug in the road between two buildings heavily hailed by shrapnel.

The floor and stairwell of a building were stained with blood.

Resident Olena Voytenko, 59, said she knew one of those killed, a man whose apartment caught fire in the blast.

Another resident, Mikhaylo Samoluk, said the strike happened in the middle of the night. “I was on my couch and all of a sudden my couch jumped up,” he said.

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Yuras Karmanau reported from Lviv, and Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.

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

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