KRAMATOLSK, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian-hit eastern Ukrainian city of Siviero Donetsk appeared to be on the verge of becoming another Mariupol on Monday as services and aid had been cut and Moscow tried Occupy all of Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region.
The governor of the Luhansk region, Heyday, said the Russians had entered the suburbs of West Viero Donetsk and were advancing towards nearby Lysichansk. Two civilians were killed and five others injured in the latest Russian shelling in the war, he said.
The Ukrainian military said Russian troops were strengthening their positions in the northeastern and southeastern suburbs of West Vie Donetsk and transporting more equipment and ammunition in the area to advance their offensive.
Ukrainian officials said Russian troops stormed Sivye Donetsk after unsuccessfully trying to surround it, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation there as “indescribably difficult.” An intense Russian artillery fire destroyed critical infrastructure and damaged 90% of buildings.
Siver Donetsk, 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of the Russian border, has become the center of fighting in the Donbass in recent days. Mariupol, a city on the Sea of Azov, spent nearly three months under Russian siege before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.
Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk cross the strategically important Siverskiy Donetsk River. They are the last major region of the Ukrainian-controlled Luhansk province, which together with the adjacent Donetsk region make up the Donbass.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told French television TF1 on Sunday that Moscow “unconditionally prioritizes the liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, adding that Russia regards them as “independent states”. He also suggested that other parts of Ukraine should be able to develop close ties with Russia.
The Ukrainian army reported heavy fighting in the provincial capital of Donetsk and near Lehman in the north, an important railway hub in the Donetsk region.
“The enemy is reinforcing troops,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said. “It’s trying to gain a foothold in the area.”
Zelensky will address EU leaders on Monday who are holding fresh solidarity with Ukraine over disagreements over whether to target Russian oil in a new slate of sanctions. He has repeatedly asked the EU to target Russia’s lucrative energy sector, depriving Moscow of billions of dollars in daily supply payments.
Zelensky visited soldiers on Sunday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, weeks after Ukrainian militants drove Russian troops back from nearby positions. Russia has been bombarding the northeastern city from a distance, and explosions could be heard shortly after Zelensky’s visit. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, artillery and airstrikes have destroyed more than 2,000 apartment buildings in the city, according to the region’s governor, Ole Sinehubov.
In a video address late Sunday, Zelensky praised Kharkiv regional officials but said he had fired the regional head of the SBU, the country’s top security agency, for his poor performance. In the wider Kharkiv region, Russian troops still control about a third of the territory, Zelensky said.
In Luhansk, constant Russian shelling created what Governor Serhiy Haidai described as a “serious situation”. But he said some supply and evacuation routes in Luhansk were operating normally on Sunday. He claimed that the Russians had retreated “at a loss” around a village near Donetsk in Sivye, but carried out airstrikes on another nearby river village.
The mayor of Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandr Striuk, estimates that 1,500 civilians have died in the city since the war began as a result of Russian attacks and a lack of medicine or treatment.
The Institute for War, a 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.
In Mariupol on Sunday, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor said the bodies of the dead were piled up in supermarkets after Russian troops took full control of the city. Petro Andryushchenko posted a photo on the Telegram messaging app showing bodies stacked next to a closed supermarket counter. His claims could not be immediately verified.
Ricardo Mazalan reported from Kyiv. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
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