Russian shelling sparks fire in eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, governor says

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Smoke rises after a military strike on a complex of the Sievierodonetsk Azot chemical plant, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine on June 10, 2022.

Oleksandre Ratushniak | Reuters

The Russian shelling of the Azot chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk sparked a large fire on Saturday after tons of oil leaked, the regional governor said, as the battle for the city raged.

In neighboring Donetsk province, Russian media reported that a huge cloud of smoke could be seen rising into the air after an explosion in the town of Avdiivka, home to another chemical plant.

Weeks of fighting for Sievierodonetsk, a small town in Luhansk province that has become the center of Russia’s advance into eastern Ukraine, have pulverized sections of the city and been among the bloodiest since the invasion of Moscow on February 24.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai did not say whether the fire at the factory, where hundreds of civilians were sheltering, had been extinguished. Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Speaking on national television, Gaidai said incessant fighting was raging in Sievierodonetsk. He said earlier that Russian forces controlled most of the city but Ukraine controlled the Azot chemical plant.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said Ukrainian defenders repelled a Russian attack in one part of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday while fighting continued in another.

Ukrainian forces also repelled a Russian attack on three small towns northwest of Sloviansk in Donetsk province, while fighting continues in a fourth settlement in the region, as well as east of the town, the staff said in a Facebook post. .

Russia’s RIA news agency published a video it said was taken from Donetsk that showed a large cloud of smoke rising from Avdiivka, which is currently held by Ukrainian forces and lies just north of the city of Donetsk, which is controlled by Russian-speaking separatists.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the RIA report or the authenticity of the video.

Ukraine has called for faster deliveries of heavy weapons from the West to turn the tide of the war, saying Russian forces have at least 10 times more artillery pieces.

Ukrainian forces have proven more resilient than expected, but, in a report released on Friday, the US Institute for War Studies said that as they use the last of their stockpiles of arms and ammunition from the Soviet era, they will need constant Western weapons. support for the transition to new Western supplies and systems.

The institute said effective artillery would be “increasingly decisive in the largely static fighting in eastern Ukraine”.

On Saturday, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, citing French and Ukrainian government sources, said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi ahead of the Group of Seven summit at the end of June.

A German government spokesman told Reuters they were unable to confirm the report and the Elysee Palace in Paris and the Italian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

None of the three leaders have been to Kyiv since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. Macron has sought to maintain a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the start of the war, a stance that some Eastern and Baltic countries see as undermining efforts to push him to the negotiating table.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a note of defiance on Saturday.

“We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” he told a conference in Singapore via video link. “It is on the battlefields in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are decided.”

Moscow has turned to expanding control in the eastern Donbass region, where pro-Russian separatists have already held some territory since 2014, after being forced to scale back its initial, more ambitious campaign goals.

Russian strikes knocked out power Saturday in the two largest Ukrainian-controlled cities of Donetsk, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Speaking on national television, he said it was part of a deliberate Russian strategy to cut off electricity to towns in Donetsk that remain in Ukrainian hands.

Grain shortages

The dispute between the neighbors – two of the world’s largest grain exporters – has reverberated far beyond Ukraine.

The United Nations said on Friday that up to 19 million more people around the world could face chronic hunger next year due to reduced exports of wheat and other foodstuffs.

Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister said on Saturday that up to 300,000 tons of grain may have been stored in warehouses at the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv which Kyiv said was destroyed by Russian shelling over the weekend -end last.

Turkey has tried to strike a deal so Ukraine can resume shipments from its Black Sea ports, which accounted for 98% of its grain and oilseed exports before the war. But Moscow says Kyiv must clear ports and Ukraine says it needs security guarantees not to be exposed.

The Battle of Sievierodonetsk and its destruction recall weeks of bombardment of the southern port city of Mariupol. It was reduced to rubble before Russian forces took control of this town last month.

Moscow has denied targeting civilians, but both sides claim to have inflicted massive casualties on the other’s forces.

Reuters was unable to independently verify reports from the battlefield in the conflict.

Russia calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine, while Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.

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