Ukraine said on Monday its forces had been pushed back from the centre of key industrial city Severodonetsk, where President Volodymyr Zelensky described a fight for “literally every metre”.
The cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are separated by a river, have been targeted for weeks as the last areas still under Ukrainian control in the eastern Lugansk region.
Regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Monday Russian forces were “gathering more and more equipment” to “encircle” Severodonetsk.
Moscow’s troops had “pushed our units from the centre and continue to destroy our city”, he said.
Severodonetsk had been “de facto” blocked off after Russian forces blew up the “last” bridge connecting it to Lysychansk on Sunday, Eduard Basurin, a representative for pro-Russian separatists, said on Monday.
Ukrainian forces in the area had two choices, he said, “to surrender or die”.
The capture of Severodonetsk would open the road for Moscow to Slovyansk and another major city, Kramatorsk, in their push to conquer the whole of Donbas, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.
Ukrainian forces were fighting for “every town and village where the occupiers came”, Zelensky said on Monday in a message to mark the eighth anniversary of the liberation of Mariupol in the earlier conflict.
In May, Russian troops captured the port city in southern Ukraine after a weeks-long siege.
“We are once again fighting for it and all of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
On Monday, Amnesty International accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, saying that attacks on the northeastern city of Kharkiv — many using banned cluster bombs — had killed hundreds of civilians.
“The repeated bombardments of residential neighbourhoods in Kharkiv are indiscriminate attacks which killed and injured hundreds of civilians, and as such constitute war crimes,” the rights group said in a report on Ukraine’s second biggest city.
In Bucha, a town near Kyiv synonymous with war crimes allegations, local police said on Monday they had discovered another seven bodies in a grave.
“Several victims had their hands tied and knees bound,” Kyiv regional police chief Andriy Nebytov said on Facebook.
Dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found in the town in April after Russian troops withdrew from the area following a month-long occupation.
Elsewhere in northern Ukraine on Monday, Russian rocket strikes hit the town of Pryluky, local authorities said.
Pryluky, which lies about 150 kilometres east of the capital, is home to a military airfield.
In Lysychansk, Russian bombardments killed three civilians in the last 24 hours, including a six-year-old boy, Lugansk governor Gaiday said.
While in the city of Donetsk, separatist authorities said three people were killed and four wounded in Ukrainian shelling on a market in the Budonivskyi district of the city.
In terms of security, Sweden was “in a better place now than before it applied”, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, even though its application is in limbo with Turkey currently withholding its approval.
In a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Stoltenberg said NATO was working “hard and actively” to resolve Ankara’s concerns “as soon as possible” ahead of a meeting on June 15.
It was at the summit in Brussels that Kyiv said Monday it was hoping for a decision on further Western arms deliveries to support its war effort.
“Being straightforward — to end the war we need heavy weapons,” Ukrainian presidential advisor Mikhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Podolyak listed items he said the Ukrainian army requires, including hundreds of howitzers, tanks and armoured vehicles.
Russian forces said on Sunday they had struck a site in the town of Chortkiv in western Ukraine storing US- and EU-supplied weapons.
The strike — a rare attack by Russia in the relatively calm west of Ukraine — left 22 people injured, regional governor Volodymyr Trush said.
Away from the battlefield, World Trade Organization members gathered in Geneva Sunday, with the threat posed to global food security by Russia’s war top of the agenda.
Tensions ran high during a closed-door session, in which around three dozen delegates “walked out” before a speech by Russia’s deputy economic development minister Vladimir Ilichev, WTO spokesman Dan Pruzin told journalists.
On a farm near the southern Ukrainian city Mykolaiv, the harvest has been delayed by the need to undo the damage done by Russian troops that passed through the area in March.
“We planted really late because we needed to clear everything beforehand,” including bombshells, Nadiia Ivanova, 42, told AFP.
The farm’s warehouses currently hold 2,000 tonnes of last season’s grain but there are no takers.
The railways have been partially destroyed by the Russian army, while any ship that sails faces the threat of being sunk.
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