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Members of the foreign volunteers unit that is fighting with Ukrainian army prepare for battle on June 2 2022. Picture: REUTERS/SERHII NUZHNENKO
Members of the foreign volunteers unit that is fighting with Ukrainian army prepare for battle on June 2 2022. Picture: REUTERS/SERHII NUZHNENKO

Kyiv/Sloviansk — Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Thursday its troops had pushed forward in intense street fighting in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, adding that more artillery was needed to counter Russia’s huge firepower.

In the south, the ministry said troops had captured new ground in a counter-attack in Kherson province, aiming at the biggest swathe of territory that Russia has seized since its invasion on February 24.

The battle amid the ruins of Sievierodonetsk, a small industrial city, has become one of the war’s bloodiest, with Russia concentrating its forces there. Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties.

Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river are the last Ukrainian-held parts of Luhansk province, which Moscow aims to seize as one of its principal war objectives.

In a rare update from Sievierodonetsk, the commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda National Guard Battalion, Petro Kusyk, said Ukrainians were drawing the Russians into street fighting to neutralise their artillery advantage.

“Yesterday [Wednesday] was successful for us — we launched a counter-offensive and in some areas we managed to push them back one or two blocks. In others they pushed us back, but just by a building or two,” he said in a televised interview.

“The occupiers suffered serious losses — if every day were like yesterday, this would all be over soon.”

But Kusyk said his forces were suffering from a “catastrophic” lack of counter-battery artillery. Getting such weapons would transform the battlefield, allowing the Ukrainians to fend off Russian artillery, he said.

“Even without these systems, we are holding on fine. There is an order to hold our positions and we are holding them. It is unbelievable what the surgeons are doing without the proper equipment to save soldiers.”

Sievierodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Thursday about 10,000 civilians were still trapped in the city — roughly a tenth of its pre-war population.

In his nightly video address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the fate of the Donbas region was being decided in Sievierodonetsk, “a very brutal battle, very tough, perhaps one of the most difficult throughout this war”.

To the west of Sievierodonetsk, Russia is pushing from the north and south, trying to trap Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region comprising Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province, blasting Ukrainian-held towns in their path with artillery.

In Soledar, a salt-mining town near Bakhmut close to the front line, buildings had been blasted into craters.

Remaining residents, mostly elderly, were sheltering in a crowded cellar. A woman peeled potatoes and swatted away flies. Men lay asleep on cots.

Kateryna, 85, curled up under a blanket, her hair wrapped in a scarf. “It will be as God shall give,” she said as the cellar was filled with the sound of barking dogs.

Antonina, 65, had ventured out to see her garden. “We are staying. We live here. We were born here.” She sobbed: “When is it all going to end?”

Kherson counter-offensive

In the south, Moscow is trying to impose its rule on a tract of occupied territory spanning the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, where it has installed proxy authorities who say they are planning referendums to join Russia.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Thursday its forces had won back some territory in a counter-offensive in Kherson. It gave no details, but said the Russian forces had “suffered losses in manpower and equipment”, and had mined territory and erected barricades as they retreated.

Ukraine reported a counter-offensive in Kherson last week, saying it had seized ground on the south bank of the Inhulets river that forms one of the province’s boundaries. The situation couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Reuters

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