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Picture: REUTERS\ANDREAS GEBERT
Picture: REUTERS\ANDREAS GEBERT

Kyiv/Sloviansk — Ukrainian troops holding out in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk came under renewed heavy assault on Wednesday from Russian forces who see the capture of the industrial city as key to control of the surrounding Luhansk region.

In southern Ukraine, another major battleground in the war, authorities said Russian attacks on agricultural sites including warehouses were compounding a global food crisis that has stirred concerns of famine in some developing countries.

Turkey hosted Russia’s foreign minister to discuss a UN plan to open a corridor in the Black Sea for Ukrainian grain exports. Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine must first clear its ports of mines — which Kyiv fears would make it more vulnerable to attacks from the sea.

Russian forces have been focused for weeks now on seizing Sievierodonetsk, which was home to about 106,000 people before Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. Serhiy Gaidai, the Luhansk region’s governor said Ukrainian forces wouldn’t surrender the city.

“Fighting is still raging and no-one is going to give up the city, even if our military has to step back to stronger positions. This will not mean someone is giving up the city — no-one will give up anything. But [they] may be forced to pull back,” Gaidai told Ukrainian television.

Russian forces will further increase their shelling and bombardment of Sievierodonetsk and its smaller twin city, Lysychansk, on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, he said.

Luhansk and the adjacent province of Donetsk form the Donbas, claimed by Moscow for Russian-speaking separatists who have held eastern parts of the region since 2014.

“The absolutely heroic defence of Donbas is ongoing,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video statement on Tuesday. “The occupiers didn’t believe the resistance of our military would be so strong and now they are trying to bring in new resources towards the Donbas.”

Reuters could not independently verify the situation in Sieverodonetsk.

Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and allies call this a baseless pretext for a war that has killed thousands, flattened cities and forced millions of people to flee.

‘God saved me’

Russia has switched its focus to the Donbas region since its forces were defeated on the outskirts of Kyiv in March.

Zelensky’s office said two people were killed and two wounded in the Luhansk region in the past 24 hours, five civilians were wounded in the Donetsk region, and four killed and 11 wounded in the Kharkiv region.

In Sloviansk, one of the main Donbas cities still held by Ukraine, about 85km west of Sievierodonetsk, women with small children lined up to collect aid while other residents carried buckets of water across the city.

Most residents have fled but authorities say about 24,000 remain in the city, in the path of an expected assault by Russian forces regrouping to the north.

“I am going to remain, I will not leave without my husband. He works here. That’s what we decided, we are staying,” said Irina, who did not provide her surname, as she waited with a child in a stroller outside an aid distribution centre.

Albina Petrovna, 85, described the moment her building was caught in an attack, which left her windows shattered and her balcony destroyed.

“Broken glass fell on me but God saved me, I have scratches everywhere,” she said.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, residents were cleaning up rubble from shelling the previous day. Ukraine pushed Russian forces back last month from the city’s outskirts, but Russia still strikes it sporadically.

“Everything is destroyed. We are removing equipment, there will be no business here for now,” said Viacheslav Shulga, an employee at a pizzeria in northern Kharkiv hit by the latest strike.

Zelensky said Ukraine would publish a “Book of Executioners” to detail war crimes. Ukraine has opened more than 16,000 investigations into possible war crimes, has filed eight court cases and identified 104 suspects, its prosecutor general said on Wednesday.

Russia denies targeting civilians in Ukraine and rejects accusations that its forces have committed war crimes.

Reuters

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