- The Battle of Sievierodonetsk, Key to Eastern Donbass -Zelenskiy
- Ukraine claims advances in southern Kherson region
- Growing concern over food crisis as Russia blocks ports
KYIV/SLOVIANSK, Ukraine, June 9 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces said on Thursday they advanced into intense street fighting in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, but said their only hope of reversing the tide was more artillery to compensate for Russia’s enormous firepower.
In the south, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it captured new ground in a counterattack in Kherson province, targeting most of the territory Russia has seized since its invasion in February.
The battle amid the ruins of Sievierodonetsk, a small industrial town, became one of the bloodiest of the war, with Russia concentrating its invasion force there. Both sides say they inflicted massive casualties.
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Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river are the last Ukrainian-controlled parts of Luhansk province, which Moscow is determined to seize as one of its main war targets.
Russian forces are concentrating all their power in the region, Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told Reuters on Thursday.
“They don’t spare their people, they just send men in as cannon fodder,” he said. “They are bombing our military day and night.”
In a rare update from Sievierodonetsk, the commander of the Ukrainian Svoboda National Guard Battalion, Petro Kusyk, said the Ukrainians were drawing the Russians into street fighting to neutralize the Russian artillery advantage.
“Yesterday was a success for us – we launched a counter-offensive and in some areas we managed to push them back a block or two. In others they pushed us back, but just a building or two,” he said in a TV interview.
“Yesterday the occupiers suffered severe losses – if every day was like yesterday, it would all be over soon.”
But he said his forces suffered from a “catastrophic” lack of counter-battery artillery to retaliate against Russian guns, and that obtaining such weapons would transform the battlefield.
“Even without these systems, we are holding our ground. There is an order to hold our positions and we are holding them. It’s amazing what surgeons do without the proper equipment to save soldiers’ lives.”
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said Thursday that around 10,000 civilians were still trapped inside the city, about a tenth of its pre-war population.
West of Sievierodonetsk, Russia is pushing from north and south, trying to trap Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region including Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk province, blasting Ukrainian-held towns in their path with artillery.
In Soledar, a mining town near Bakhmut near the frontline, buildings had been blown into craters.
The remaining residents, mostly elderly, sheltered in a crowded cellar. A woman peeled potatoes and chased flies. The men slept on cots. Kateryna, 85, curled up under a blanket, her hair wrapped in a scarf.
“It will be as God gives,” she said, her voice muffled by the sound of dogs barking.
Antonina, 65, had ventured into her garden. “We stay. We live here. We were born here.” She was sobbing, “When is it all going to end?”
In the south, Moscow is trying to impose its rule over a stretch of occupied territory spanning the provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, where Russian-installed proxy authorities say they are planning referendums to join Russia.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that its forces recovered territory in a counteroffensive in Kherson.
He gave no details of the location of the advance, but said Russian forces had “suffered losses in manpower and equipment”, and had laid mines and erected barricades as ‘they were pushed back.
Ukraine reported a counter-offensive in Kherson last week, claiming to have seized a bridgehead on the southern bank of the Inhulets River forming a border with the province, the ministry confirmed this week. British Defence. The situation there could not be independently confirmed.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions have fled since Moscow launched its “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor on February 24. Ukraine and its allies call the invasion a war of unprovoked aggression.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of grain and edible oil, and international attention has focused in recent weeks on the threat of international famine caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports. .
“Millions of people could starve to death if the Russian blockade of the Black Sea continues,” Zelenskiy said in televised remarks on Thursday.
Moscow blames the food crisis on Western sanctions limiting its own grain exports. He says he is ready to open Ukrainian ports to exports if Ukraine clears the mines and meets other conditions. Kyiv calls these offers empty promises.
Turkey, a NATO power with good relations with Kyiv and Moscow, has tried to mediate, hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks on Tuesday.
Russia has also attempted to sell grain from seized areas of Ukraine, an activity Kyiv and the West call looting. When asked if a deal had been reached to sell grain from southern Ukraine to Turkey or a Middle Eastern country, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Until now no agreement has been reached, the work continues”.
The grain crisis took center stage at a meeting of the OECD group of developed countries in Paris.
“We must unblock the millions of tonnes of grain that are stuck there because of the conflict,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a speech. “We must offer President Zelenskiy the assurances he needs that the ports will not be attacked.”
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Additional reporting by Reuters offices Writing by Peter Graff Editing by Mark Heinrich
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