- As the war enters its fourth month, Russia focuses on the east
- Russia tries to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin cities
- EU’s von der Leyen says Moscow uses food as weapons
kyiv/SLOVYANSK, Ukraine, May 25 (Reuters) – Russian forces on Wednesday launched offensives against cities in eastern Ukraine with relentless mortar shelling that destroyed several houses and killed civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial region of Donbas.
Russia is attempting to seize the two Donbas provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, claimed by the separatists, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.
In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donbas, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk on the west bank have become a critical battlefield. Russian forces advanced from three directions to surround them.
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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said Russian forces launched an offensive in Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday morning and the city was under constant mortar fire.
Luhansk Regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight wounded, most near bomb shelters, in Sievierodonetsk.
“Right now, with the support of artillery, the Russian occupiers are attacking Sievierodonetsk,” Gaidai said.
Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas, where Moscow troops killed at least 14 civilians using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.
Reuters could not immediately verify the information about the fighting.
In a sign of Ukraine’s success elsewhere, authorities in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, have reopened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under relentless bombardment.
The reopening came after Ukraine pushed Russian forces out of artillery range from the northern city, as they did from the capital kyiv in March.
THIRD WORLD WAR?
Three months after the invasion, Russia still has limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, countless thousands have died and cities have been reduced to rubble.
The war has also led to growing food shortages and rising prices due to sanctions and the disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, accused Russia of using food as a weapon. read more
Billionaire financier George Soros, also speaking at Davos, said the Russian invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of World War III.
“The best and perhaps the only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible,” he said.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny slammed President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, portraying the Kremlin chief as a convicted madman who was massacring the people of Ukraine and Russia.
“This is a stupid war that your Putin started,” Navalny told an appeals court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony. “This war was based on lies.”
Underscoring global tensions unleashed by the war, the United States’ main ally, Japan, took off planes on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese warplanes closed in on its airspace as US President Joe Biden visited Tokyo. read more
Meanwhile, in a move that could bring Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver that expires Wednesday that allows Russia to pay US bondholders.
Russia was allowed to continue paying interest and principal and avoid defaulting on its public debt.
Russian lawmakers have given the first seal of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that have left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, a government online portal showed.[nL5N2XG5UG}[nL5N2XG5UG}[nL5N2XG5UG}[nL5N2XG5UG}
On Monday, Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) became the latest Western brand to announce it would pull out of Russia, following a similar move by McDonald’s. The trademark of the hamburger chain “Golden Arches” was taken down near Moscow on Monday.
Senior Russian officials suggested in comments Tuesday that the war, which Russia calls a “special operation,” could drag on.
Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Russia will fight as long as it takes to eradicate “Nazism” in Ukraine, a justification for the war the West calls unfounded.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately moving slowly to avoid civilian casualties.
Zelenskiy dismissed such statements as “absolutely unrealistic”.
In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were living underground in trains and stations when authorities asked them to make way for them on Tuesday.
“Everyone is insanely scared, because there is still shelling going on,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who had lived in a subway train for most of the war.
The fighting in Donbas follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Petro Andryushchenko, an assistant to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol who now operates out of the city, said the dead lay in the rubble.
About 200 decomposing bodies were buried in rubble in the basement of a high-rise building, he said. The residents refused to pick them up and the Russian authorities left the place.
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Reporting from Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidiy in Kharkiv, and Reuters journalists in Mariupol and Slovyansk; Written by Costas Pitas and Michael Perry; Edited by Cynthia Osterman, Robert Birsel
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