Russia intensifies its attacks on major cities in eastern Ukraine and seizes territory

  • EU takes decision on Ukraine’s membership bid
  • Zelensky says the battle for Donbass will intensify
  • Separatists demand the capture of Tochkevka
  • Russian missiles hit a warehouse in the port of Odessa

Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian forces seized riverside territory on the frontline in eastern Ukraine and increased pressure on two major cities on Monday after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted Moscow would step up attacks ahead of a European Union summit expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to participate. Join the block.

The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, which has seen the most violent Russian attacks in recent weeks, said the situation was “extremely difficult” along the entire front line as of Monday evening.

“The Russian army has amassed sufficient reserves to launch a large-scale offensive,” Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.

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He said that Russian forces have taken control of most of the city of Severodonetsk, with the exception of the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have been sheltering for weeks, and the road linking Severodonetsk and its sister city Lysechansk to Bakhmut is under constant bombardment.

“Lysichansk suffered from intense Russian bombardment throughout the day. It is impossible to determine the number of casualties so far,” said Geday, adding that the bombing was probably the heaviest the city had experienced so far.

However, the Russians had not yet completed the encirclement of the Ukrainian forces, which were inflicting “significant losses” on them,” he said.

Moscow’s separatist agents claimed to have captured Toshkivka, a town on the west bank of the Ukraine-controlled Seversky Donets River, south of Severodonetsk, which has become a major battlefield city in recent weeks.

Gaidai acknowledged earlier that a Russian attack on Toshkivka “had a degree of success” and said Russian forces were also trying to gain a foothold near the village of Ustinovka further north along the river. He said they were bringing in a huge amount of heavy equipment, including tanks.

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He confirmed Russia’s claim that it had captured Mytiolkin.

On Sunday, in his usual video address to the nation, Zelensky said that an escalation of Russian attacks is expected this week.

“We are preparing, we are ready,” he said.

At a summit on Thursday and Friday, EU leaders are expected to bless Ukraine’s becoming an official candidate for accession, a decision that will be seen as a victory in Kyiv.

“I think it will probably happen,” US President Joe Biden told reporters when asked on Monday if he felt Ukraine would become a member of the European Union.

Ukraine applied for EU membership just four days after the Russian invasion on February 24. Although it would take years to achieve membership, reaching deep into the heart of the former Soviet Union would lead to one of the largest economic and social transformations in Europe since the Cold War. Read more

Attractive stage

The war has entered a brutal attrition phase in recent weeks, as Russian forces have focused their overwhelming artillery firepower on the Ukrainian-controlled enclave of Donbas, which Moscow claims on behalf of the separatists.

Ukrainian officials reported that three civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region on Monday, and three others in shelling in the Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian military said a Russian missile attack in Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port on the Black Sea, destroyed a food depot on Monday. There were no reports of civilian deaths.

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Odessa was subjected to intermittent bombardment during the war and besieged by the Russian Navy.

The Russian leader of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, said Kyiv had bombed Black Sea drilling rigs owned by the Crimean Oil Company. He said on Telegram that three people were injured and that a search was underway for seven workers.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said the two platforms were 71 km from Odessa. Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.

Washington and its European allies have provided Ukraine with arms and financial aid, but they have avoided direct involvement in the conflict. But some American citizens volunteered to fight alongside the Ukrainian forces.

The Kremlin said the Americans captured in Ukraine were “mercenaries” who fired on Russian soldiers and were not covered by the Geneva Convention, the RIA news agency reported on Monday.

It quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that they should take responsibility for their “crimes”.

Russian media on Friday broadcast photos and brief interviews with two captured Americans they identified as Andy Hoen, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, and Alexander Drake, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

This month, a separatist court sentenced British and Moroccan nationals to death after they were caught fighting for Ukraine.

The RIA also quoted the Kremlin as saying that American basketball player Britney Grenier, who has been detained in Russia since February, faces a criminal trial. Read more

Russia earlier said it detained Grenier, a seven-time WNBA All-Star player, for possession of e-cigarette cartridges containing retail oil. Read more

International concern has focused on trying to restore Ukrainian exports of food, which are now closed by a de facto Russian blockade. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading sources of grain and edible oils, which has led to fears of global shortages and hunger.

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The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, described the grain blockade as a “real war crime”. It was “unbelievable…. that millions of tons of wheat should remain withheld in Ukraine while people in the rest of the world go hungry.”

Russia blames the food crisis on Western sanctions that restrict its exports.

The war has also disrupted energy markets, including Russian oil and gas shipments to Europe, which remains the continent’s main source of energy and Moscow’s primary source of income. Moscow blames European Union sanctions for the decline in gas volumes, saying they have prevented it from recovering pipeline pumping equipment.

Meanwhile, Moscow has threatened retaliation against EU member Lithuania for banning the transport of essential goods to Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea surrounded by EU territory. The ban, which took effect on Saturday, blocks shipments of coal, minerals, building materials and advanced technology.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the top Lithuanian diplomat and demanded that Vilnius immediately retract the “overtly hostile” step, otherwise Russia “reserves the right to take measures to protect its national interests.” Lithuania said it was required to impose the ban under European Union sanctions.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Peter Graf, Angus McSwan, and Jonathan Otis; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Thomas Janowski and Jonathan Otis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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