KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AFP) – Moscow-backed separatists bombed eastern Ukraine’s Donbass industrial region on Friday, claiming they had seized a railway hub, while Ukrainian officials demanded advanced Western weapons they say they need to stem the offensive.
The advance of Russian forces raised fears that cities in the region would face the same horrors inflicted on the inhabitants of the port city of Mariupol in the weeks before its fall.
Friday’s fighting centered on two major cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. It is the last of the Ukrainian-controlled areas of Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up Donbass and where Russian-backed separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years. Authorities say 1,500 people in Severodonetsk have already been killed since the war began three months ago. The Russian-backed rebels also said they had captured the railway center at Lyman.
The governor of Luhansk warned that Ukrainian soldiers might have to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk to avoid being surrounded. But he predicted the final victory of Ukraine. “The Russians will not be able to capture the Luhansk region in the coming days, as analysts expect,” Serhiy Hayday wrote in Telegram on Friday. “We will have enough forces and means to defend ourselves.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also taken a defiant tone. In his video night speech on Friday, he said: “If the occupiers think that Lyman or Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian.”
Currently, Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told The Associated Press: “The city is being systematically destroyed – 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”
Stryuk described conditions in Severodonetsk reminiscent of the Battle of Mariupol, It is located in another Donbass province, Donetsk. Now in ruins, the port city has been constantly subjected to a barrage of Russian troops in a nearly three-month siege that ended last week. When Russia claimed to seize it. More than 20,000 of its civilians He fears death.
Before the war, Sievierodonetsk was home to about 100,000 people. Stryuk said 12,000 to 13,000 people remain in the city, huddled in shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine. At least 1,500 people died there because of the war, now in its 93rd day. The mayor said that the figure includes those killed by shelling or fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated diseases, lack of medicine, or trapped under the rubble.
In the northeastern quarter of the city, Strick said, Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups attempted to seize the Mir Hotel and the surrounding area.
Hints about Russia’s strategy can be found in the Donbass region of Mariupol, where Moscow is consolidating its control through measures including state-controlled broadcasting programs and reformed curricula, according to an analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.
Russia appears to have “adjusted its goals again, and it now appears with trepidation that they are trying to consolidate and impose the ground they have rather than focus on expanding it,” General Philip Breedlove, former head of NATO’s European American Command, said Friday during a session organized by the Middle East Institute in Washington. .
However, such an aggressive move could backfire by seriously depleting the Russian arsenal. Echoing an assessment from Britain’s Ministry of Defense, military analyst Ole Zhdanov said Russia is deploying 50-year-old T-62 tanks, “which means the world’s second army has run out of modern equipment.”
Russia-backed rebels said on Friday they had captured Lyman, the major railway hub in Donetsk north of two other major cities still under Ukrainian control. Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Aristovich conceded the loss Thursday night, although a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday that its soldiers completely repelled Russian attempts to expel them.
With Ukraine’s hopes of halting Russia’s advance fading, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba appealed to Western countries for heavy weapons, saying it was the only region where Russia had a clear advantage.
“Without artillery and without multiple launch rocket systems, we will not be able to push them back,” he said.
The US Department of Defense has not confirmed a CNN report The Biden administration was preparing to send long-range missile systems to Ukraine, possibly as early as next week. “Certainly we are cognizant and conscious of Ukrainian claims, both publicly and covertly, for what is known as the Multiple Launch Missile System. I will not preempt decisions that are yet to be made,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that providing missiles that could reach his country would represent “a serious step towards an unacceptable escalation.” He spoke in an interview with RT Arabic that aired on Friday.
Just south of Sievierodonetsk, volunteers had hoped to evacuate 100 people from a smaller town. It was an arduous process: many of the evacuees from Bakhmut were old or infirm and needed apartment buildings on soft stretchers and wheelchairs.
Minibuses and vans sped through town, picking up dozens at the first stop of the long westward journey.
“Bakhmut is a high-risk area at the moment,” said Mark Pubert, an American volunteer with the British charity RefugEase. “We’re trying to get as many people out as possible.”
To the north, neighboring Belarus – which Russia used as a staging post before the invasion – announced on Friday that it would send troops towards the Ukrainian border.
In Russia’s Far East, a legislative deputy made a rare offer to oppose the war in Ukraine, demanding an end to the military operation and the withdrawal of Russian troops. “We understand that if our country does not stop the military operation, we will have more orphans in our country,” said Leonid Vasukevich of the Communist Party on Friday at a meeting of the Primorsk Regional Legislative Assembly in the Pacific port of Vladivostok.
His comments, addressed to President Vladimir Putin, appeared in a video clip posted on the Telegram. This was followed by another deputy to support the views of Vasukevich. But the Speaker of the Legislative Council issued a statement after that, describing the statements as a “political provocation” that the majority of lawmakers do not support.
Karmanau reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Andrew Cattell in New York, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed.
This story was edited to correct the killing of 1,500 people in Sievierodonetsk alone, not the Donbas region as a whole.
Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine