Ukraine said on Friday its forces may need to withdraw from their last pocket of resistance in Luhansk to avoid capture by Russian troops pressing an eastward advance that has changed the momentum of the old war. of three months.
A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing all of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions. His troops gained ground in the two regions known as Donbass while blowing up some wasteland towns.
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Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest city in Donbass still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days. Gaidai said 90% of buildings in the city were damaged.
“The Russians will not be able to capture the Luhansk region in the next few days as analysts predicted,” Gaidai said on Telegram, referring to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the border. Siverskiy Donets river.
“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that, in order not to be surrounded, we will have to retreat.
Moscow’s separatist proxies said they now control Lyman, a rail hub west of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine said Russia had captured most of Lyman but its forces were blocking an advance towards Sloviansk, a town half an hour’s drive further southwest.
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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was protecting its territory “as much as our current defense resources allow”. Ukraine’s military said it repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armored vehicles.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will belong to them, they are mistaken. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskyy said in an evening speech.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Bloomberg UK that Putin “at great cost to himself and to the Russian military, continues to gnaw at the soil of Donbass”.
Russian troops advanced after breaking through Ukrainian lines last week in the town of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have now captured several villages northwest of Popasna, the UK Ministry of Defense said.
Reached Thursday by Reuters reporters in Russian-held territory, Popasna was in ruins. The swollen body of a dead man in combat uniform could be seen lying in a yard.
Natalia Kovalenko had left the cellar where she had taken refuge to live in the rubble of her apartment, its windows and balcony blown out. She said a shell hit the yard outside, killing two people and injuring eight.
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“I just have to fix the window somehow. The wind is still bad,” she said. “We are tired of being so afraid.”
Russia’s gains in the east follow a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed Moscow forces back from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, in May. But Ukrainian forces were unable to attack Russian supply lines to Donbass.
Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days. Local authorities said nine people were killed. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.
In the south, where Moscow has seized a swathe of territory since the Feb. 24 invasion, including the strategic port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials believe Russia is aiming to impose permanent rule.
Ukraine’s military said Russia was shipping military equipment from Russia’s annexed Crimea to build defenses against any counterattacks and was mining the banks of a reservoir behind a dam on the Dnipro River that separates the forces.
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In the Kherson region of northern Crimea, Russian forces were daily reinforcing defenses and shelling Ukrainian-controlled areas, the region’s Ukrainian governor, Hennadiy Laguta, told a press briefing.
He said the humanitarian situation was critical in some areas and people were finding it almost impossible to leave the occupied territory, except for a convoy of 200 cars which left on Wednesday.
On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal could be reached by Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, accounting for around 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not by sea. pipeline, a compromise to win Hungary and unlock new sanctions. . Read the full story
Zelenskyy criticized the EU for dithering on a ban on Russian energy, saying the bloc was funding Moscow’s war effort and that the delay “just means more Ukrainians are being killed”.
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In a phone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin stuck to his line that a global food crisis caused by the conflict can only be solved if the West lifts sanctions.
Nehammer, who visited Russia in April, said Putin had said he was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine, but he said: “If he is really ready to negotiate, it is a complex question”.
Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports has halted grain shipments, pushing up world prices, with the two countries being major grain exporters. Russia accuses Ukraine of exploiting the ports and Ukraine has called the Russian position “blackmail”.
Russia, which calls its invasion a “special military operation”, launched its assault in part to ensure Ukraine did not join the US-led NATO military alliance.
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But the war has prompted Sweden and Finland, which were both neutral throughout the Cold War, to apply to join NATO in one of the most significant changes to European security in decades.
Applications from Nordic states have been trampled on by opposition from NATO member Turkey, which claims to be harboring people linked to a militant group it considers a terrorist organization. Swedish and Finnish diplomats met in Turkey on Wednesday to try to iron out their differences.
“It’s not an easy process,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on Friday, adding that Sweden and Finland needed to take “difficult” steps to win Ankara’s support.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters reporters in Popasna; Writing by Peter Graff, Catherine Evans and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Edmund Blair and Grant McCool)