KRAMATOLSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia claims to have seized a key railroad junction while its troops battle Ukrainian defenders on the streets of another city in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the railway center Lehman had been “completely liberated” by a coalition of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists.
Meanwhile, nearly 40 miles (60 kilometers) to the east, Russian troops tried Saturday to surround Ukrainian defenders at the manufacturing center in Sievierodonetsk, where fighting cut off electricity and cellphone service and terrorized civilians who did not flee.
Having failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, early in the three-month war, the Russians set out to seize parts of the eastern industrial region of Donbass not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists. They have made impressive progress in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up the Donbass.
Taking control of Lehman would give Russian troops another foothold in the region. It has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets river, which has so far hindered Russian advances to the Donbass.
Ukrainian officials sent different signals to Lehmann. Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said on Friday that Russian troops controlled most of the area and were trying to push the offensive on Bakhmut, another city in the region. On Saturday, Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Malial disputed Moscow’s claim that Lehmann had fallen, saying fighting continued there.
In a video address Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation in the east as “very complicated” and said “the Russian army is trying to achieve at least some results there by concentrating its forces”.
As his offensive continues, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pressured European leaders to stop supplying arms to beleaguered Ukrainians and blamed Western sanctions on the emerging global food crisis. The Kremlin said Putin highlighted his situation during an 80-minute phone call with leaders of France and Germany on Saturday.
German Chancellor Olaf Schultz and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russia to cease fire immediately and withdraw Russian troops, and called on Putin to engage in serious, direct negotiations with Zelensky to end the fighting.
Putin affirmed “the Russian side is open to resuming dialogue,” the Kremlin said in a readout of the call. It added that the three leaders, who had not spoken for several weeks in the spring, agreed to stay in touch.
But Russia’s recent progress in eastern Ukraine could further encourage Putin.
In its assessment on Saturday, the MoD said: “If Russia does succeed in taking over these areas, it is highly likely that the Kremlin will see it as a substantial political achievement and will be described by the Russian people as a justification for the invasion. “
Russia has stepped up its capture of the city of West Viro Donetsk and the nearby city of Lysichansk, the last major Ukrainian-controlled area in Luhansk.
Ukrainian fighters repelled the attack on Silviero Donetsk, but Russian troops were still advancing to surround them, Luhansk Governor Serchy Heyday reported. He later said Russian troops occupied a hotel on the outskirts of the city, damaged 14 high-rise buildings and engaged Ukrainian troops in the streets.
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said fighting broke out at the city’s bus station. Struck said a humanitarian center was inoperable due to the danger, and cell phone service and electricity were cut off. Residents risked shelling to get water from six wells, he said.
Struck said some supply routes were operating and the evacuation of the wounded was still possible. He estimated that 1,500 civilians in the city, a pre-war population of about 100,000, died from fighting and a lack of medicines and untreatable diseases.
AP reporters saw that just south of Sievierodonetsk old and sick civilians On Friday, strapped to soft stretchers, they were slowly carried down the stairs of Bachmut’s apartment building.
Svetlana Lvova, manager of two buildings in Bachmut, tried to persuade reluctant residents to leave, but said she and her husband would wait for their son in Sivye Donetsk to return home Evacuate afterward.
“I have to know he’s alive. That’s why I’m here,” said Lvova, 66.
Those who managed to escape Lysychansk on Saturday described intensified shelling, especially over the past week, preventing them from getting out of the underground dugout.
Yana Skakova left the city on Friday with her 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons, crying as she sat on a train bound for western Ukraine. Her husband stayed to take care of their house and animals.
“It’s too dangerous to be there now,” she said, wiping away tears.
Russia’s progress has sparked fears that residents could experience the same horrors as the southeastern port city of Mariupol, which endured a three-month siege before falling last week. Residents who have not yet fled face the choice of trying to flee now or staying.Mariupol became mass destruction and human sufferingand Ukraine’s determination to defend the country.
The port of Mariupol has resumed operations after Russian troops cleared mines in the Sea of Azov, according to reports. Russia’s state news agency TASS reported that a vessel bound for Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia entered port early Saturday.
The Kremlin said Putin stressed in his call with Macron and Scholz that Russia was working to “establish a peaceful life in Mariupol and other liberated cities in the Donbass”.
Ukrainian authorities report that Kremlin officials in the occupied cities have started broadcasting Russian news broadcasts, introducing Russian area codes, introducing Russian school curricula and taking other steps to annex the areas.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted local Russian official Krill Stremousov as saying that the southern part of the Russian-controlled Kherson region has been changed to Moscow time and “will no longer switch to daylight saving time as is the practice in Ukraine.” Say Saturday.
In his speech on Saturday, Zelensky also accused Russian troops of preventing Kherson residents from leaving, saying they were actually “trying to take hostages” as a sign of “weakness.”
The war caused global food shortages because Ukraine was a major exporter of grain and other commodities. Moscow and Kyiv have been blaming which party is responsible for seizing the cargo, with Russia saying Ukrainian mines impeded safe passage and Ukraine citing a Russian naval blockade.
Ukraine’s naval press service said two Russian ships “capable of carrying up to 16 missiles” were ready for action in the Black Sea, adding that only routes established through multilateral treaties could be considered safe.
Ukrainian officials have begged the West for more sophisticated and powerful weapons. The Pentagon would not confirm a CNN report on Friday that the Biden administration is preparing to send long-range rocket systems.
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said on Saturday such a move was “unacceptable” and told the White House to “drop its statement on Ukraine’s military victory.”
Moscow is also trying to shake the resolve of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its navy successfully launched a new hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea, hitting a target about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) away.
If confirmed, the launch could spell trouble for NATO’s navigation in the Arctic and North Atlantic. Described as the world’s fastest non-ballistic missile, the Zircon can be equipped with a conventional or nuclear warhead and is said to be unstoppable by current defenses.
Last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia would form new military units in the western part of the country in response to applications from Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Andrew Katell in New York, and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed.
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