Russian attack targets key towns in eastern Ukraine
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KYIV/KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, May 25 (Reuters) – Russian forces on Wednesday pounded the easternmost Ukrainian town in the Donbass region that is now at the center of the three-month-old war, threatening to close the last lane main escape route for civilians trapped in their advance.
After failing to seize the Ukrainian capital kyiv or its second city Kharkiv, Russia is trying to take full control of Donbass, made up of two eastern provinces claimed by Moscow on behalf of the separatists.
Russia has deployed thousands of troops to the area, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces standing in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the entire Luhansk region under Russian control, a key Kremlin war objective.
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“The entire remaining force of the Russian military is now concentrated in this region,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night speech.
His office said the Russians launched their assault on Sievierodonetsk early Wednesday and the town was under constant mortar fire.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight injured, most near bomb shelters in Sievierodonetsk. The main road was still shelled, he said, but humanitarian aid was still arriving.
Ukraine’s military said fighting for the road continued and it repelled nine Russian attacks in Donbass on Tuesday. He reported at least 14 civilians killed in aircraft, artillery, tank, mortar and missile strikes.
‘I HAVE NOTHING’
In Pokrovsk, a Ukrainian city in Donbass that has become a major hub for supplies and evacuations, a missile had cratered a train track and damaged nearby buildings, including Lydiia Oleksiivna’s house.
She was cleaning the dust and ashes that covered her kitchen. The windows had been blown out and the exterior walls destroyed. “I don’t know if we can save the house,” she said.
In Kramatorsk, closer to the front line, the streets were largely deserted, while in Sloviansk, further west, many residents took advantage of what Ukraine said was a pause in the onslaught. Russian to leave.
“My house was bombed, I have nothing,” said Vera Safronova, sitting in a train carriage among the evacuees.
Russia is also targeting southern Ukraine, where officials said shelling killed a civilian and damaged dozens of homes in Zaporozhzhia and missiles destroyed an industrial facility in Kryviy Rih.
Moscow blocked ships from southern Ukraine that would normally export Ukrainian grain and sunflower oil through the Black Sea, driving up prices globally and threatening lives. Read more
Russia blamed Western sanctions for the food crisis. He said on Wednesday he was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine, but that sanctions would have to be lifted in return.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko, quoted by the Interfax news agency, reportedly said that Moscow was in contact with the United Nations and did not rule out “the possibility of global talks to unblock Ukrainian ports”. Read more
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has accused Moscow of using “blackmail” tactics to secure an easing of sanctions.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also rejected Russia’s suggestion of such a compromise, saying: “This grain is for starving countries.”
In the latest sign of Moscow’s plans to tighten its grip on the territory it has seized, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the process of acquiring Russian citizenship and passports for residents of newly captured.
With its invasion now in its fourth month, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military casualties in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation as Moscow steps up strikes artillery to compensate for its slowness.
Russia’s parliament on Wednesday scrapped the upper age limit for contract service in the army, stressing the need to replace lost troops. Read more
Western nations imposed severe sanctions on Russia.
The United States pushed Russia closer to the brink of a historic default on Wednesday by not extending its license to pay bondholders. This waiver has allowed Moscow to maintain public debt payments so far. Read more
The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to make non-compliance with EU sanctions against Russia a crime. Read more The EU has also said it hopes to reach an agreement on Russian oil sanctions before the next meeting of EU leaders. Read more
But Russia, for now at least, is not short of money. Oil and gas revenues rose to $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices. Read more
Putin on Wednesday ordered the government to raise old-age pensions and the minimum wage by 10%, while saying not all economic problems were linked to what he calls Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
In a speech via video link to dignitaries at a global forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskiy said the conflict could only end with direct talks between him and Putin.
As a “first step towards talks”, Russia should withdraw to the lines in place before its Feb. 24 invasion, he said. Prior to the invasion, Russia held Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, while its separatist proxies occupied parts of Donbass.
Ukraine’s closest allies say they fear some Western countries are pushing kyiv to give up the land for peace. Estonian Prime Minister said Ukraine should not be forced to compromise.
“It is much more dangerous to give in to Putin than to provoke him. All these seemingly small concessions to the aggressor lead to big wars. We have already made this mistake three times: Georgia, Crimea and Donbass.”
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Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Conor Humphries in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidiy in Kharkiv and Reuters reporters in Mariupol and Slovyansk; Written by Philippa Fletcher and Gareth Jones; Editing by Peter Graff and Tomasz Janowski
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