- Severodonetsk city center to fight for eastern Ukraine
- Hundreds are trapped at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk
- NATO defense ministers are scheduled to discuss military aid to Ukraine
Kyiv/NEW YORK, Ukraine, June 15 (Reuters) – Ukraine ignored Russia’s ultimatum to hand over the eastern city of Severodonetsk on Wednesday as Washington urged NATO defense ministers to consider more military support for Kiev so as not to lose focus, saying the risks also. high.
Sievierodonetsk, now largely in ruins, was for weeks the main focal point of the war. Russia had told the Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical factory there to stop “absurd resistance and lay down arms” as of Wednesday morning, to press their advantage in the battle for control of eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine says more than 500 civilians, including 40 children, remain alongside soldiers inside the Azot chemical plant, hiding from weeks of almost constant Russian bombing.
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The mayor of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, said that Russian forces were trying to storm the city from several directions but that the Ukrainians continued to defend it and were not completely isolated, despite the destruction of all its river bridges.
“We are trying to push the enemy towards the center of the city,” Stryuk said on television. “This is an ongoing situation with partial successes and tactical retreat.” He did not mention the Russian ultimatum.
“Escape routes are dangerous, but there are some.”
Moscow said it would allow civilians to be evacuated from the factory on Wednesday, but the Russian-backed separatists said the Ukrainian bombing halted the plan, which would have included driving people back into territory they control.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region that contains Severodonetsk, said the Ukrainian army continued to defend the city and prevented Russian forces from capturing its twin city of Lysichansk on the opposite bank of the Seversky Donets River.
“Nevertheless, the Russians are close, the population is suffering and homes are destroyed,” he wrote on the Internet before 8 a.m. Moscow time (0500 GMT).
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the battlefield accounts.
Luhansk is one of two eastern provinces claimed by Moscow on behalf of separatist proxies. Together they make up the Donbass region, an industrial region of Ukraine on which Russia focused its attack after it failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in March.
Addressing dozens of NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels to discuss their next moves, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the invasion was at a “pivotal moment”. Read more
“We cannot relent and we cannot lose our strength. The stakes are very high,” he said at the start of the talks.
The Azot bombing echoes the earlier siege of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians took shelter from Russian bombardment. Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken to Russian custody.
The sprawling ammonia plant was established in Severodonetsk under the leadership of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Those inside were living on water from wells and food supplies brought in, the mayor said, but the situation was critical.
British intelligence said the fighters could survive underground, and Russian forces would likely remain focused on them, preventing them from attacking elsewhere.
But British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Ukrainian forces on the eastern front were overstretched and overwhelmed.
Kyiv said between 100 and 200 of its soldiers are being killed every day, while hundreds of others are wounded in the bloodiest battle since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
“We have to be strong… the more losses the enemy incurs, the less will it be able to continue its aggression,” Zelensky said in a speech late Tuesday. On Wednesday, he called for more European sanctions against Russia. Read more
Brussels, we are waiting
Western countries have promised weapons that meet NATO standards – including advanced US missiles. But publishing them takes time, and Zelensky said Ukraine did not have enough anti-missile systems and the delay was not justified.
His adviser, Mikhailo Podolyak, said the defenders of Severodonetsk wanted to know when the weapons would arrive. “Brussels…we are waiting for a decision,” he wrote on Twitter.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “very focused on increasing support” for Ukraine. The gathering in Brussels is the third time that a group of about 50 countries has met to coordinate aid in Kyiv. Read more
In May, the US Senate passed a bill to provide $40 billion in additional aid to Ukraine and promised advanced long-range missile systems, drones, and artillery.
Russia does not provide regular figures on its losses, but Western countries say it has been huge as President Vladimir Putin seeks complete control of Donbass and a swathe of southern Ukraine. Putin describes the war as a special military operation against Ukrainian nationalists.
Elsewhere in Donbass, Ukraine says Russia plans to attack Sloviansk from the north and along a front near Bakhmut in the south. The bombardment was heard 40 km (25 miles) south of Bakhmut, near the town of New York, where Ukrainian forces said Russia was throwing everything into the battle.
“Three and a half months ago we were standing against the largest country in the world,” said a 22-year-old Ukrainian soldier nicknamed “Viking.” They have caused huge losses to vehicles and personnel, but they are not holding back.”
The conflict drove up grain prices, and Western sanctions against Russia drove up oil prices. Ukraine’s agriculture minister told Reuters the invasion would create a global wheat shortage for at least three seasons by keeping many Ukrainian crops off the market. Read more
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Rami Ayoub, Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher. Editing by Grant McCall, Simon Cameron Moore, Frank Jack Danielle and Gareth Jones
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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