© Reuters. A local resident looks at the grass which is on fire after a shelling, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near the town of Bakhmut, Donetsk region Ukraine June 12, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
By Natalia Zinets and Maria Starkova
KYIV (Reuters) – Russian troops swarmed Sievierodonetsk, as their artillery pounded parts of the city where Ukrainian defenders mounted a desperate rearguard action in the fiercest fighting in a wider battle for control of the eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine.
The destruction of a bridge by the Russians left civilians stranded with only one bridge remaining to escape across a river to the nearby town of Lysychansk, which was also shelled but was still in Ukrainian hands.
Hundreds of civilians in Sievierodonetsk were sheltering in the city’s Azot chemical plant, creating a scenario similar to
the fall of the southern port city of Mariupol, where hundreds of people were trapped for weeks in the steelworks of Azovstal.
“The Russians continue to storm the city, having a significant advantage in artillery they have pushed back the Ukrainian soldiers somewhat,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region.
“The Russians are destroying neighborhood after neighborhood,” Gaidai said on Monday.
Russian forces have taken most of Sievierodonetsk, having pulverized parts of the city in one of the bloodiest assaults since they invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Sunday that Russia was trying to dump military reserves into Donbass.
“The key tactical objective of the occupiers has not changed: they are pressing Sievierodonetsk, heavy fighting is taking place there – literally for every meter,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy said the attacks that resulted in child casualties created an enduring image of Russia for the rest of the world.
“These very facts will highlight how Russia is perceived by the world,” he said.
“Not Peter the Great, not Lev Tolstoy, but children injured and killed in Russian attacks,” he said, in an apparent reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks last week comparing Moscow’s military campaign to the conquest of land by Russian Emperor Peter the Great in the 18th century. owned by Sweden.
Russia has denied targeting civilians.
Putin launched what he called a “special operation” to restore Russian security and “denazify” its southern neighbor. Ukraine and its Western allies call it a baseless pretext for war that raises fears of a wider conflict in Europe.
In the biggest assault on a European country since World War II, more than five million people have fled Ukraine, thousands have died and cities have fallen to ruin. The war triggered a global energy and food crisis by disrupting gas, oil and grain supplies to Russia and Ukraine.
TRAPPED IN A CHEMICAL PLANT
After failing to take the capital Kyiv, Moscow has focused on expanding control in Donbass, where pro-Russian separatists have held territory since 2014.
In Sievierodonetsk, the last pocket of Ukrainian land held in the strategic Luhansk region, Ukrainian troops were fighting street by street to hold on to the city, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces suffering heavy casualties, said Roman Vlasenko, head of the administration of the Sievierodonetsk district, to the local authorities. TV.
“Our boys are holding on but the conditions are tough,” he said. Vlasenko said the city had been without communications and normal services for a month.
Russian shelling hit the area of the Azot chemical plant three times, Luhansk Governor Gaidai said.
“About 500 civilians remain on the grounds of the Azot plant in Sievierodonetsk, 40 of them children. Sometimes the military manages to evacuate someone,” he said.
The destruction of a bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River connecting Sievierodonetsk to Lysychansk left only one of the three bridges still standing, he said.
“If after further shelling the bridge collapses, the city will be truly isolated. There will be no way to leave Sievierodonetsk by vehicle,” Gaidai said, noting the lack of a ceasefire agreement or agree on the evacuation corridors.
Gaidai said Lysychansk was also shelled by Russian forces and a six-year-old child was killed there.
Reuters could not independently confirm this account.
In Pokrovsk, southwest of Sievierodonetsk, women, children and elderly people, some in wheelchairs, boarded the only train evacuating people on Saturday, at the start of a long journey from the conflict zone to security in Lviv near the border with Poland.
“We held on until the last moment, we didn’t want to leave, but life forced us to survive,” Lyuba, a woman from Lysychansk, told Reuters Television as she waited for the train to depart. “We’re leaving, we don’t know where, to whom, but we’re leaving.”
WEAPON SUPPLIES REQUESTED
In western Ukraine, Russian cruise missiles destroyed a large depot containing US and European weapons in the Ternopil region, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The governor of Ternopil said rockets fired from the Black Sea at the town of Chortkiv partly destroyed a military installation and injured 22 people. A local official said no weapons were stored there.
Reuters could not independently confirm the various accounts.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook (NASDAQ:) that General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, had spoken to General Mark Milley, the highest ranking US military officer, and reiterated a request for more heavy artillery systems.
Moscow has criticized the United States and other countries for sending weapons to Ukraine, threatening to strike new targets if the West supplies long-range missiles.