LYSYCHANSK: Ukraine has pledged to do “everything” to defend Donbass, where the intensification of the Russian offensive is pushing forces in Kyiv to consider a strategic withdrawal from certain key areas to avoid being encircled.
Russia is waging all-out war for the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk that make up Donbass – the country’s industrial heartland – where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of committing “genocide”.
In his daily address to the Ukrainians, Zelenskyy said that the Russians had “concentrated maximum artillery, maximum reserves in Donbass”.
“There are missile strikes and aircraft attacks – everything,” he said.
“We are protecting our lands in the way that our current defense resources allow us,” he added. “We are doing everything to increase them.”
Pro-Russian separatists said on Friday (May 27) they had captured the town of Lyman between Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk, on the route to major towns still under Kyiv’s control.
Russian forces are also closing in on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Lugansk province, with conflicting reports on the extent of their advance.
Regional Governor Sergiy Gaiday insisted Russian forces would not be able to take over the whole region within two to three days – but said Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from certain areas to avoid to be surrounded.
“They probably won’t seize (Lugansk), because there is enough strength and means to hold the defence,” he said on Telegram.
“Perhaps even to avoid encirclement there could be an order for our troops to retreat.”
A Luhansk police official, quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti, said Severodonetsk was “now surrounded” and Ukrainian troops could no longer leave the city.
This was denied by senior city official Oleksandr Stryuk, although he acknowledged the situation was “very difficult” with incessant shelling.
“People are ready to risk everything to get food and water,” said the head of the main aid distribution center in Lysychansk, Oleksandr Kozyr.
“They are so psychologically depressed that they are no longer afraid. All they care about is finding food.”
Three months after Russia launched its invasion on February 24, killing thousands on both sides and forcing 6.6 million out of the country, Moscow has taken control of large swaths of the east and south of Ukraine, including the port cities of Kherson and Mariupol.
“Russian forces have made steady and incremental gains in the heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine over the past few days, although Ukrainian defenses remain broadly effective,” said the US Institute for the Study of the war.
To further help Ukraine fight the invasion, Washington was preparing to send advanced long-range rocket systems, according to US media.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm plans to deliver the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) to Ukraine, a highly mobile system that can fire up to 300 km which Kyiv said has greatly need.
“We are still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield,” he said.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, referring to rocket systems, said on Twitter that some of the country’s partners “avoid giving the necessary weapons for fear of escalation. Escalation, really?”.
In a historic move against Russian spiritual authorities, the Moscow branch of the Kyiv Orthodox Church said on Friday it was cutting ties with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, declaring “full independence”.
A church council that has focused on “aggression” from Russia has condemned the pro-war stance of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Not only did he (Kirill) not condemn Russia’s military aggression, but he also found no words for the suffering Ukrainian people,” the spokesman for AFP told AFP. the church, Bishop Kliment.
Ukraine has been under Moscow’s spiritual leadership since at least the 17th century, but part of its Orthodox Church broke with Moscow in 2019 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for Donbass separatists.
Seeking to leverage international pressure on Russia, Zelenskyy will speak to EU leaders at an emergency summit on Monday as they try to agree on a Russian oil embargo, which is blocked by Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Rather than continuing to trade with (Russia), we must act until they stop their policy of aggression,” Zelenskyy told a think tank in Indonesia.
But in Moscow, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the country expects to receive a trillion rubles ($15 billion) in additional oil and gas revenue this year, a boon from the sharp rise in oil prices caused in part by his invasion of Ukraine.
As his navy blockades Ukrainian ports, Putin has also dismissed accusations that he is using food shortages as a weapon. Russia and Ukraine supply around 30% of the wheat traded on world markets.
Russia has tightened its own exports and Ukraine has large quantities stuck in stock, driving up prices and reducing availability for importers around the world.
In a Friday call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin questioned “anti-Russian sanctions taken by the United States and the European Union, among others,” according to the Kremlin.
He also accused Kyiv of “sabotage” the negotiations and urged Ukraine to clear ports “as soon as possible” to allow ships carrying grain to pass, the Kremlin said.