June 30, 2022

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Ukraine says battle for Donbass twin cities reaches ‘frightening climax’

Ukraine says battle for Donbass twin cities reaches 'frightening climax'
  • Zelensky urges the West to hand over heavy weapons
  • EU leaders to start Ukraine’s membership process
  • The Battle of the Twin Cities of Donbass reaches a critical stage

Kyiv (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks aimed to destroy the entire Donbass region, urging Ukraine’s allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.

Oleksiy Aristovich, Zelensky’s adviser, said the fight for the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region was “entering a kind of frightening climax.” Russia seeks to capture both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbass region – the industrial heart of the nation.

On the diplomatic front, European leaders on Thursday will formally set Ukraine on the long path to EU membership at a summit in Brussels. Although mainly symbolic, the move will help lift morale after four months of a bloody conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and devastated cities.

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“We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but more quickly and more quickly,” Zelensky said in a video address published in the early hours of Thursday morning, repeating Ukrainian demands for bigger and faster weapons.

“There were intense air and artillery strikes in the Donbass. The goal of the occupier here has not changed, they want to destroy the entire Donbass step by step,” he said.

“That is why we repeatedly emphasize the acceleration of arms deliveries to Ukraine. What is urgently needed is parity on the battlefield in order to stop this demonic fleet and push it beyond the borders of Ukraine.”

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Battle for the Twin Cities

The fierce war of attrition in the Donbass is most dangerous in Severodonetsk and Lychansk.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces were defending Severodonetsk and the neighboring settlements of Zolote and Vovsherovka, but added that Russia had captured Loskotivka and Ray Oleksandrivka in the south.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Severodonetsk, where Ukraine and Russia are squabbling over who controls the bombed city.

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are besieged and surrounded. But Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that “Russian forces do not have complete control.”

In Lysechansk, Gaidai said the situation was “extremely dangerous in the city” as it was all in the Russian crosshairs.

“In order to avoid encirclement, our command can order a retreat of forces to new positions. There may be a regrouping after last night,” he added.

Russia-backed separatists said Lysichansk was now besieged and cut off from supplies after seizing a road linking the city with the town of Seversk, the TASS news agency quoted Russia-backed separatists as saying.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the news.

According to the British Ministry of Defense, it is very likely that Russian forces have advanced more than 5 kilometers (3.11 mi) towards the southern ports of Lyschansk since 19 June.

“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, possibly to avoid being surrounded,” she said on Twitter.

“Russian forces are putting the Lysichansk-Severodonetsk enclave under increasing pressure with this creeping advance…However, their efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to control western Donetsk Oblast are still stalled,” the ministry added.

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Aristovich said that Russian forces in both cities were conscripts with varying levels of training after Ukraine inflicted heavy losses on Russian forces. Reuters was unable to verify his statements about the Russian losses.

“It’s like two boxers wrestling each other in the 18th round of the bout and barely able to move things forward. This process started on April 14 and lasted for nearly 80 days,” he said in an online post.

EU membership

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin called a “special operation” to ensure Russian security and discredit Ukraine. Ukraine and the West describe this as an unfounded excuse to launch a war of choice, which has raised fears of a broader conflict in Europe.

Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, the former Soviet state, and western clubs such as the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Zelensky said he spoke to 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and would make more calls on Thursday.

Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the European Union. But EU leaders say the bloc should make a gesture acknowledging Ukraine’s sacrifice.

The war in Ukraine had a massive impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil, and food prices, causing the European Union to reduce its heavy dependence on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.

The European Union will temporarily return to using coal to deal with dwindling Russian gas flows without derailing long-term climate goals, an EU official said on Wednesday.

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US administration officials have said that the leaders of the Group of Seven and NATO will seek to increase pressure on Russia in meetings next week. Read more

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Reporting by Reuters offices. writing by Michael Berry; Edited by Himani Sarkar

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.