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A view shows a mural on the wall of a building damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in Luhansk region, Ukraine, May 26, 2022. (Reuters)

Moscow on Thursday urged the West to lift sanctions on Russia for the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift blame for a growing food crisis that has been compounded by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to solving the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers provided that the politically motivated restrictions imposed by the ‘West be lifted,’ according to a Kremlin reading of the appeal.

Russian forces on Wednesday pounded Ukrainian-held twin towns in the Donbass region that is now at the center of the three-month-old war, threatening to close the last main escape route for trapped civilians on their way to their homes. 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 province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war objective.

Local resident Anatolii Virko plays the piano in front of a house possibly damaged after a Russian bombardment in the village of Velyka Kostromka, Ukraine, May 19, 2022. (AP)

Lysychansk police are collecting the bodies of those killed in order to bury them in mass graves, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. Some 150 people were buried in a mass grave in a district of Lysychansk, he added.

Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said that “the Russian army is enjoying a certain tactical success which threatens to become an operational success in the direction of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk”.

Sievierodonetsk and Bakhmut, a city to the southeast, risked being surrounded, Arestovych said. “(It is) possible that the colonies will be abandoned, it is possible that we will have heavy losses.”

Families of people buried in mass graves will be able to reburial after the war, and police are issuing documents allowing Ukrainians to obtain death certificates for their relatives, Gaidai said.

The main road out of Sievierodonetsk was shelled, but humanitarian aid was still arriving, Gaidai said in an earlier statement. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops “far outnumbered us” in parts of the east.

As Moscow seeks to tighten its grip on territory it has captured, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of newly captured districts to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.


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