Key Ukrainian city under ‘massive’ Russian bombardment
The “massive” Russian bombardment of the Ukrainian battlefield in the eastern region of Lugansk and the key city of Severodonetsk was “hell” for the soldiers there, Kyiv said, while insisting that the defenders would hold “as long as necessary”.
Troops from Moscow have battered eastern Ukraine for weeks and are making slow progress, despite fierce resistance from the underarmed Ukrainian army.
As President Vladimir Putin’s forces tighten their grip on the strategically important city of Severodonetsk in the Donbass, its twin city of Lysychansk is now coming under more intense shelling.
“The Russian army is heavily shelling Lysychansk,” Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region, which includes the two cities, wrote on Telegram.
“They are destroying everything there… They have destroyed buildings and unfortunately there are victims.”
He later wrote that ‘it’s just hell out there’ after four months of shelling in Severodonetsk across the Donets River – while adding that ‘our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold as long as necessary”.
Russian forces are occupying villages in the region and taking control of the two towns would give Moscow control of all of Lugansk, allowing them to penetrate further into the Donbass.
After being pushed back from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine following their invasion in February, Moscow is seeking to seize a large swath of the country’s east.
At a briefing on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed responsibility for a missile strike it said killed a number of Ukrainian soldiers in southern Mykolaiv.
In the city of Zaporizhzhia in central Ukraine, women practiced using Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces closed in.
“Of course, when you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after walking through a makeshift basement combat zone.
In his daily address on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also accused the Russian military of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the eastern region of Kharkiv.
“The Russian military is deaf to all rationality. It just destroys, just kills,” he said.
Fifteen people were killed Tuesday by Russian bombardments in Kharkiv, announced its governor.
Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it had collected testimonies of a “scandalous lack of care to distinguish and protect civilians”.
Of the hundreds of patients evacuated by train, more than 40% were elderly or children.
Most said Russian or Russian-backed forces were responsible for an array of horrific injuries.
“While we cannot specifically indicate an intent to target civilians, the decision to use heavy weapons en masse on densely populated areas means that civilians are inevitably, and are therefore knowingly, killed and injured,” he said. MSF emergency coordinator Christopher Stokes.
On the Russian side, authorities in the Rostov region bordering Ukraine on Wednesday said a fire at an oil refinery may have been caused by a drone strike, saying parts of unmanned aircraft had were found at the scene.
Away from the battlefield, Moscow was embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with EU member Lithuania over the country’s restrictions on rail traffic to the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.
The territory is about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from Moscow, bordering Lithuania and Poland.
By blocking goods from Russia, Lithuania claims it is merely adhering to European Union-wide sanctions against Moscow.
But Moscow accused Brussels of “escalation” and summoned the EU ambassador to Russia.
The United States has made clear its commitment to Lithuania as a NATO ally, which views an attack on one member as an attack on all.
“We stand with our NATO allies and we stand with Lithuania,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
As US-Russian tensions soar, the State Department confirmed on Tuesday that a second American, 52-year-old Stephen Zabielski, was killed fighting for Ukraine.
Two other Americans were captured last week in eastern Ukraine.
A White House spokesman, John Kirby, expressed alarm at Russian statements that it would not apply the Geneva Conventions on the humane treatment of prisoners to the couple.
“It’s appalling that an official in Russia is even proposing the death penalty for two American citizens who were in Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters.
In a look at Washington, authorities in Moscow announced that the official address of the US embassy had been changed to “1 Donetsk People’s Republic Square” after the name of the Ukrainian region separatist won a public poll.
At the same time in Brussels, the ministers agreed unanimously on Tuesday to grant Ukraine and neighboring Moldova the status of candidate for membership of the European Union.
Also on the diplomatic front, Moscow has complained that its delegates to an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) assembly in Britain next month have been denied British visas.
“Fight for Arms”
Western nations have pumped billions of dollars worth of weapons into Ukraine, where Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted that powerful German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer artillery had reached his country’s forces.
But Zelensky reiterated Ukrainian calls for faster arms deliveries.
“The lives of thousands of people directly depend on the speed of our partners,” he said in his daily address.
Meanwhile, Ukraine said it hit an oil rig in the Black Sea off the Crimean peninsula because Russia was using it as a military installation.
Ukrainian officials say the platform was used for military purposes.