Russians try to encircle Severodonetsk, Zelensky pleads for weapons

Russian forces stepped up their efforts on Tuesday to cut off Ukrainian troops in the key industrial city of Severodonetsk in the east of the country, despite Ukrainians insisting they were holding their ground.

Moscow has for weeks besieged the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are separated by a river, as the last areas of the eastern Donbass region of Lugansk still under Ukrainian control.

Severodonetsk’s head of administration said “heavy shelling” had destroyed a third bridge linking the twin cities, but insisted his city was “not isolated”.

“There are communication channels, although they are quite complicated,” Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian television. Ukraine “continues to defend the city” but that the situation on the ground “changes every hour”, he added.

On Monday, Sergiy Gaiday, governor of Lugansk, told Radio Free Europe that Russian forces had “destroyed all the bridges and it was no longer possible to enter the city. Evacuation is also not possible”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the human cost of the battle for the east “simply terrifying”, urging Western allies to speed up arms deliveries to bolster Ukraine’s ability to reclaim territory.

“We just need enough weapons to handle all of this. Our partners have them.”

His presidential adviser, Mikhaylo Podolyak, listed hundreds of howitzers, tanks and armored vehicles among the elements needed by the Ukrainian army.

“Tear off their arms”

“To end the war we need heavy weapons,” he tweeted.

Last week, Ukraine’s defense minister said up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed and 500 injured every day.

Taking Severodonetsk would open the road to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk, in Moscow’s push to conquer Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking region held in part by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.

The AFP team in Lysychansk found enormous damage after months of shelling, without water, electricity or telephone signal.

The Ukrainian army uses the heights of the city to exchange fire with Russian forces fighting for control of Severodonetsk, just across the water.

Maksym Katerin, a resident of Lysychansk, buried his mother and stepfather in his garden on Monday after a shell tore through his yard, killing them instantly.

“I don’t know who did this, but if I did I would rip their arms off,” he said.

Neighbor Yevgeniya Panisheva cried.

“Surrender or Die”

Katerin’s mother lay on the ground, “her stomach was torn and her guts were falling out. She was a very good, kind and helpful woman. Why did they do this to her?” said Panisheva.

“They bomb and they bomb, and we don’t know what to do.”

The governor of Lugansk said Ukrainian forces had been pushed back from central Severodonetsk, with the Russians controlling 70-80% of the city in their bid to “encircle it”.

As Russia turns the screw on Severodonetsk, Ukrainian forces have two choices: “surrender or die,” said Eduard Basurin, a representative of pro-Russian separatists.

On Monday, Amnesty International accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, saying attacks on the northeastern city of Kharkiv, including banned cluster bombs, had killed hundreds of civilians.

“The repeated shelling of residential areas of Kharkiv are indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured hundreds of civilians, and as such constitute war crimes,” the rights group said in a report on the second city. from Ukraine.

“Hands Tied”

In Bucha, a town near Kyiv that has become synonymous with Russian war crimes allegations, police said on Monday they discovered seven more bodies in a grave.

“Several victims had their hands and knees tied,” Kyiv regional police chief Andriy Nebytov said on Facebook.

Dozens of bodies in civilian clothes were found in the city in April after Russian troops withdrew from the area after a month of occupation.

Far from the battlefield, Russia’s war in Ukraine has posed a threat to global food security. Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister said on Monday that a quarter of his country’s arable land had been lost, but insisted national food security was not at risk.

At a farm near the southern Ukrainian town of Mykolaiv, harvesting has been delayed by the need to repair damage caused by Russian troops who crossed the area in March.

“We planted very late because everything had to be cleaned up first,” including the bombs, Nadiia Ivanova, 42, told AFP.

The farm’s warehouses currently hold 2,000 tonnes of last season’s grain, but with normal export routes blocked or damaged by war, there are no buyers for the harvest.

Martin E. Berry