Russia moves east; Ukraine calls for use of long-range weapons

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© Reuters. Smoke rises from a self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika of pro-Russian forces, which fires leaflet shells in the direction of Sievierodonetsk to disperse information materials from fighting positions in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Al

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Max Hunder and Conor Humphries

Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian forces on Sunday intensified their assault on the Ukrainian city of Sivye Donetsk after claiming to have seized the nearby Lehman railway junction, as Kyiv launched a new call for long-range weapons from the West.

Russia’s slow but steady progress in recent days in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass, which includes the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, suggests a subtle shift in the momentum of the war, now in its fourth month.

The invading force appears to be close to occupying the entire Luhansk region, one of the more modest war goals set by the Kremlin after it abandoned its offensive on the capital, Kyiv, in the face of Ukrainian resistance.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its military and allied separatist forces had full control of Lehman, the site of the Donetsk-Silversky railway junction west of the Donets River.

However, according to the website ZN.ua, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Maliar said that the battle for Lehman is still going on.

About 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Leman, on the east side of the river, Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still under Ukrainian control, was under heavy attack by the Russians.

“The situation has escalated extremely,” said Luhansk Governor Sergei Ghede.

He said the shelling was so intense it was impossible to assess the latest casualties and damage, although two people were killed on Saturday and 13 buildings in the city were destroyed.

Guede said on Friday that they may have to retreat from the city to avoid arrests, but it was not clear whether they had already begun their evacuation.

Russian artillery is also battering the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must take to end the clampdown campaign and surround Ukrainian troops, in what police say is “major damage” in Lysychansk.

Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace negotiator Mikhailo Podoljak renewed his call for the use of U.S.-made long-range multiple rocket launchers. U.S. officials told Reuters that such systems were being actively considered and a decision could be made in the coming days.

“It’s hard to fight when you’re attacked 70 kilometers away and there’s nothing to fight back…we need effective weapons,” Podoljak tweeted (NYSE: ).

In a late-night video address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed hope that Ukraine’s allies would provide the needed weapons, adding that he expected “good news” this week.

Ukrainian troops in the Donbass said in a brief Facebook (NASDAQ: NASDAQ) post that they had been on the defensive throughout the day, fending off seven Russian attacks and destroying a tank.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims.

“Catastrophic consequences”

The military situation in Donbass is very complicated, Zelensky said, adding that fortifications exist in many places, including Silvie Donetsk and Lysichansk.

“The hardships there are indescribable. I thank everyone who has weathered this shock,” he said.

The British Ministry of Defence said in its daily intelligence report that if Russia succeeded in taking over these areas, the Kremlin could see it as a “substantial political achievement” that it could use to justify the invasion of the Russian people.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna said dismayed by the West’s divisions over the war, NATO showed it could not have a unified response.

“If Ukraine is defeated, we must speak clearly about the catastrophic consequences for the future of Europe as a whole,” she said on Facebook.

Zelensky said in a TV interview that he believed Russia would agree to talks if Ukraine could retake all the territory it had lost since the invasion began on February 24.

Still, Zelensky has ruled out the idea of ​​using force to retake all the land Ukraine has lost to Russia since 2014, including the southern peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Moscow that year.

“I don’t believe we can recover all of our territory by military means. If we decide to go this route, we will lose hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.

Russia said it was launching a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and rid itself of threats from Russian-speaking nationalists there. Ukraine and Western countries say Russia’s claims are a false pretext for launching a war of aggression.

Thousands, including many civilians, were killed and millions fled their homes to safer parts of Ukraine or other countries.

Authorities in the second city of Kharkiv said six civilians were injured in the latest Russian shelling.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict affecting outside Ukraine during a conference call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

France said they urged him to lift Russia’s blockade of the port of Odessa to allow Ukrainian grain exports. The Kremlin said Putin told them that Moscow was open to discussing ways to enable Ukraine to resume shipments of grain from Black Sea ports.

Ukraine is a major food exporter, and the blockage of its exports could lead to food shortages in some countries, including Africa.

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