POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russian and Ukrainian forces fought close quarters in the eastern Ukrainian city on Sunday, as Moscow soldiers, backed by heavy artillery shelling, tried to gain a strategic foothold to conquer the region amid fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian troops were “raiding” on Sivye Donetsk after an unsuccessful attempt to encircle the city. The mayor said the fighting had disrupted power and cell phone service, and humanitarian aid centers were in danger of being unable to operate.
Siver Donetsk, about 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of the Russian border, has become in recent days the center of Moscow’s quest to seize all of Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Russia has also stepped up efforts to occupy nearby Lysychansk, where civilians are eager to flee the ongoing shelling.
The two cities are the last major areas of the Ukrainian-controlled Luhansk province, which together with neighboring Donetsk make up the Donbass. After failing to seize the Ukrainian capital, Russia is focused on capturing parts of Donbass not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
The Russian military has made some small gains in recent days as bombing ripped through Ukrainian positions, leaving civilians trapped in basements or desperately trying to evacuate safely.Attacks that destroy military targets across the country also result in civilian casualties
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation in the east as “indescribable”. “The Russian army is trying to get at least some results by focusing attacks there,” he said in a video address Saturday night.
Civilians arriving in the eastern city of Pokrovsk, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Lysychansk, said they would hold on as long as possible before fleeing the Russian onslaught.
Yana Skakova choked up about leaving with her 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons, while her husband stayed behind to take care of their house and animals. The family was one of 18 people who lived in the basement for the past 2 1/2 months until police told them it was time to evacuate on Friday.
“None of us want to leave our hometown,” she said. “But for the sake of these little kids, we decided to leave.”
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said fighting broke out at the city’s bus station on Saturday. Residents who remained in the city, with a pre-war population of about 100,000, risked shelling to get water from six wells and had no electricity or cell phone service, Striuk said.
Striuk estimates that 1,500 civilians have died from Russian attacks, a lack of medicines and untreatable diseases since the war began.
War Institute. The Washington-based think tank has questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of amassing a massive military force to capture Sifdonetsk, saying it would be costly for Russia and bring little return.
“When the Battle of Sifdonetsk is over, whichever side captures the city, Russia’s offensive at both the operational and strategic levels will likely reach its peak, giving Ukraine the opportunity to restart its operational counteroffensive to bring Russian forces to the ground. retreat,” the institute said in an assessment released late Saturday.
The deteriorating situation has sparked fears that Sifdonetsk could be the next Mariupol, a port city 281 kilometers (175 miles) to the south, before the surrender of the last Ukrainian fighters. Been under siege for nearly three months.
After the Russian army took full control of Mariupol, they piled the bodies in supermarkets, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol said on Sunday.
Aide Petro Andryushchenko posted on the Telegram messaging app a photo of what he called a “heap of corpses” in the occupied city. It shows bodies stacked next to closed supermarket counters.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of his claims or the photo, which Andryushchenko described as a recent photo.
“Here, the Russians brought the bodies of the dead, which were flushed out of the graves and partially exhumed in the process of trying to restore the water supply. They just dumped them like garbage,” he wrote.
The governor of Luhansk province, Haidai, said the continuous shelling had created a “serious” situation in Lysichansk. “There are dead and wounded,” he wrote on Telegram, without elaborating.
One civilian was killed and four others injured when Russian shells hit a high-rise apartment building on Saturday, he said.
But he said some supply and evacuation routes were still operating in Luhansk on Sunday. He claimed that the Russians had retreated from around one village near Sievierodonetsk “with losses”, but carried out air strikes on another nearby village on the strategic Siverskiy Donetsk River.
The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that Russian troops were also trying to strengthen their positions around Lehman, a small city that serves as an important railway hub in the Donetsk region.
Moscow claimed Saturday to have taken Lehman, but Ukrainian authorities said their fighters were still fighting in parts of the city.
“The enemy is strengthening its forces,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in an operational update. “It’s trying to gain a foothold in the area.”
The Ukrainian army said heavy fighting was taking place around the provincial capital Donetsk.
More broadly, Russia launched new airstrikes overnight on the Kharkiv and Sumy regions in northern Ukraine and central Ukraine, Ukraine’s state agency said.
Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Sunday that Russian shelling had caused fires around the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. Russia continued to bomb Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, weeks ago after Ukrainian militants drove its troops from positions near the city.
Zelensky visited Kharkiv on Sunday. Regional governor Ole Sinehubov told the president that Russian troops still control about 30 percent of the Kharkiv region, while troops in Kyiv have recaptured another 5 percent.
The Russian attack destroyed more than 2,000 apartment buildings, with areas north and east of the city of Kharkiv being particularly affected, Syniehubov reported.
Zelensky also met with Ukrainian soldiers stationed in Kharkiv.
“I am incredibly proud of our defenders. They risk their lives every day fighting for Ukraine’s freedom,” he wrote on Telegram.
The Ukrainian border guard said six unguided missiles had hit the border area of the Sumy region east of Kharkiv. The agency did not mention any reports of casualties.
Russia claims its forces destroyed a key Ukrainian ammunition depot in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, Zelensky’s hometown. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said high-precision missiles hit a warehouse located “in an industrial complex.”
Ukraine’s emergency services have confirmed that a factory in Kryvyi Rih caught fire after being hit by two Russian rockets, causing “significant damage”. Officials did not say whether it was used as a military warehouse.
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