Zelensky: Fate of Ukraine’s Donbas on line in fight for city

Zelensky: Fate of Ukraine’s Donbas on line in fight for city




LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine — 

The fate of Ukraine’s complete Donbas vicinity hinges on the strategic city of Severodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned overnight, as he called on defenders to push back against Russian advances that have increasingly darkened the outlook for the eastern part of his embattled country.

The war in Ukraine, which entered its 16th week Thursday, has shifted decisively from attempts to capture the capital of Kyiv and northeastern metropolis of Kharkiv to the eastern industrial heartland, where Russia has long fomented separatism and now controls wide swaths of territory.

Kyiv, where missiles hit suburbs and mass graves were discovered earlier in the war, is welcoming back foreign dignitaries as embassies reopen, and Russian forces have been largely repelled around Kharkiv. But Moscow’s troops occupy the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks in an underground steelworks complicate amid consistent assault, and Kherson, the southern coastal city that was the first to fall.

Now, in one of the few points on which Kyiv and the Kremlin seem to agree, the Donbas appears poised to fall unless Ukrainians stage a turnaround — something they have achieved before in other regions of this high land but that is looking more difficult by the day.

A satellite image Monday shows the war’s destruction in Rubizhne, near the strategic east Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk.

(Maxar Technologies)

Severodonetsk in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas, is “the epicenter of the confrontation,” Zelensky said in an overnight address Wednesday.

He said Ukraine had inflicted “meaningful losses on the enemy.” But that claim could not be verified and came days after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that 97% of Luhansk had been “liberated” by Russia, a term Moscow uses in line with its false description of the war as an effort to save Ukrainians and Russian speakers from a corrupt “neo-Nazi” government.

“The fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” Zelensky said of Severodonetsk, where the two sides have been locked in vicious street battles. before, he has described Severodonetsk and its sister city of Lysychansk, both along the strategic Seversky Donets River, as “dead cities” laid waste by the grinding war of attrition.

As the fighting raged, pro-Russia rebels in the Donbas said they had sentenced a Moroccan and two British citizens to death for fighting on the Ukrainian side to “overthrow” the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. The three have a month to allurement before being scheduled for execution via a firing squad, Russian state news organization RIA Novosti reported Thursday.

at the minimum hundreds of foreign fighters, including Americans, have traveled to Ukraine over the months to take up arms in sustain of Kyiv.

The sentencing followed two war-crimes trials in Ukraine last month that saw three Russian soldiers sentenced to prison, including a 21-year-old who received a life sentence for killing a civilian.

Air and ground assaults were reported across the Donbas on Thursday.

“The enemy fired on our units with mortars, artillery and multiple-rocket launchers,” the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in a statement Thursday. “It fired on civilian infrastructure in the settlements of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Privillya, Ustynivka, Horske and Katerynivka.”

Approaching the front lines here in Lysychansk, the signs of war were clear.

Booms, the whoosh of rocket launchers releasing their payloads and the ripping sound of heavy machine guns reverberated in the air. The hours-long artillery duels between Ukrainians and their Russian adversaries had left many parts of Severodonetsk burning Thursday morning.

Ukrainian soldiers relax after digging trenches Wednesday near the front line of the war in the Donetsk vicinity of eastern Ukraine.

(Bernat Armangue / Associated Press)

already as fighting begins to engulf parts of Lysychansk, some residents insisted on staying.

“This is my homeland. I was born here. Why should I leave?” said Alexander, a pensioner who gave only his first name for reasons of privacy. He sat with a few others in the backyard of an artillery-ravaged building, heating water for tea on a makeshift oven.

The mayor of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Striuk, described his city’s plight Thursday as “difficult but manageable.”

But Luhansk regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a statement that the situation was so dire that it was impossible to evacuate people from the city. In other hard-hit cities, including Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, intermittent evacuations continued already as battles raged over territorial control.

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Haidai, like Zelensky, said Ukraine needed the West to send more long-range weapons to help with defenses. With those, the governor said, Ukraine could retake locaiongs in Severodonetsk “in two or three days.”

Taking over the Donbas would allow Moscow to unprotected to ambitions of expanding its territorial control westward, adding to the land it has already snatched from Ukraine. That includes Crimea, the peninsula it illegally annexed in 2014.

The Donbas is also home to part of Ukraine’s meaningful agricultural industry. The nation, called the “breadbasket of Europe,” has seen its exports confined by Russian ships guarding its ports. Much of the exports typically go to North Africa and the Middle East.

Speaking on TV on Thursday, Zelensky warned of a possible food crisis if foreign nations and humanitarian groups do not intervene to help release corn, oil and wheat exports.

Zelensky said the world was approaching a “terrible food crisis,” a position that has been echoed by humanitarian and trade organizations in recent months.

“This method that, unfortunately, there may be a physical shortage of products in dozens of countries around the world. Millions of people may starve if the Russian blockade of the Black Sea continues,” the president said.

A report this week from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program said that the war could leave an additional 47 million people “food insecure” this year. The number takes into account the increasing energy costs from bans on Russian oil and gas imports.

Turkey, which before hosted talks between the two sides, has been attempting to coordinate an agreement between Kyiv and Moscow to allow for grain shipments across the Black Sea.

Ukraine has accused Russia of using the war to steal grain from its lands, an accusation that the British foreign minister, among others, has called on to be investigated.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no deal.

“No agreements have been reached however,” Peskov said. “Work is underway.”

Bulos reported from Lysychansk, Ukraine, and Kaleem from London.

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