Russia takes small towns and intends to expand the battle in eastern Ukraine

A Russian soldier walks while guarding an area of ​​the Mariupol seaport in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, in eastern Ukraine, on April 29, 2022.The Associated Press

As Russia claimed to have made progress in its goal of seizing all of disputed eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin tried to shake a European resolve on Saturday to punish his country with sanctions and continue supplying weapons that have supported Ukraine’s defense. .

The Russian Defense Ministry said Lyman, the second small town to fall to Russia this week, had been “completely liberated” by a joint force of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists, who have waged an eight-year war on the Donbas industrial region bordering Russia. Russia.

Ukraine’s train system transported weapons and evacuated citizens through Lyman, a key railway hub in the country’s east. Controlling it would also give Russia’s military another foothold in the region; it has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets River, which has so far impeded the Russian advance into the Donbas.

The Kremlin said Putin held an 80-minute phone call Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany in which he warned against continued Western arms transfers to Ukraine and blamed Western sanctions for the conflict’s disruption of global arms supplies. foods.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops, according to the chancellor’s spokesman. Both urged Putin to enter serious and direct negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to end the fighting, the spokesman said.

A Kremlin reading of the call between Macron, Putin and Scholz said the Russian leader affirmed “the openness of the Russian side to the resumption of dialogue.” The three leaders, who had not spoken for weeks this spring, agreed to keep in touch, according to the reading.

But Russia’s recent progress in Donetsk and Lugansk, the two provinces that make up Donbas, could embolden Putin even more. Since he failed to occupy Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russia has set out to seize the last parts of the region not controlled by separatists.

“If Russia succeeded in seizing these areas, it is very likely that the Kremlin will see it as a substantive political achievement and that the Russian people will present it as a justification for the invasion,” the British Ministry of Defense said in an assessment on Saturday.

Russia has stepped up its efforts to capture the larger cities of Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, which are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province. Zelensky called the situation in the east “difficult” but expressed confidence that his country would prevail with the help of Western weapons and sanctions.

“If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” he said.

The Luhansk governor reported that Ukrainian fighters repelled an assault on Sievierodonetsk, but Russian troops still pressed to encircle them. Speaking on Ukrainian television later on Saturday, Governor Serhii Haidai said the Russians had taken over a hotel on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk.

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said on Friday that some 1,500 civilians in the city, which before the war had a population of about 100,000, died there during the war, including from lack of medicine or from illnesses that could not be treated. .

The advance of Russian forces raised fears that residents would experience the same horrors as people in the southeastern port city of Mariupol in the weeks before the fall. Residents who had not yet fled were faced with the choice of taking their chances now or staying behind.

Just south of Sievierodonetsk, AP reporters saw elderly and sick civilians loaded onto soft stretchers and carried slowly up the stairs of an apartment building Friday in Bakhmut, a city in the northeastern province of Donetsk.

Svetlana Lvova, a manager of two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to convince reluctant residents to leave but said she and her husband would not evacuate until their son, who was in Sieverodonetsk, returned home.

“I have to know that he is alive. That is why I am staying here,” said Lvova, 66.

On Saturday, people who managed to flee Lysychansk described intensifying shelling, especially over the past week, leaving them unable to leave basement bomb shelters.

Yanna Skakova said she left town on Friday with her 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons. She cried as she sat on a train bound for western Ukraine. She said that her husband stayed to take care of her house and her animals.

“It’s too dangerous to stay there now,” he said, wiping away tears.

A nearly three-month siege of Mariupol ended last week when Russia claimed full control of the city. Mariupol became a symbol of mass destruction and human suffering, as well as of Ukrainian determination to defend the country.

The port of Mariupol reportedly resumed operations after Russian forces finished clearing mines in the Azov Sea off the once-vibrant city. Russian state news agency Tass reported that a ship bound for the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don entered the Mariupol seaport early Saturday.

The Kremlin said that Putin had emphasized to Macron and Scholz that Russia was working to “establish a peaceful life in Mariupol and other liberated cities in the Donbas.”

Germany and France brokered a 2015 Ukraine-Russia peace deal that would have given a high degree of autonomy to Moscow-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine. However, the deal stalled long before Russia’s invasion in February. Any hope that Paris and Berlin will anchor a renewed peace deal now seems unlikely, as both Kyiv and Moscow are taking uncompromising positions.

Ukrainian authorities reported that Kremlin-installed officials in the seized cities began broadcasting Russian news, introduced Russian area codes, imported Russian school curriculum, and took other steps to annex the areas.

Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region have switched to Moscow time and “will no longer switch to daylight saving time, as is customary in Ukraine,” Russian state agency RIA Novosti quoted Krill Stremousov, an official. local installed in Russia, as if saying Saturday.

The war in Ukraine has caused global food shortages because the country is a major exporter of grain and other staples. Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations over which side was responsible for keeping shipments moored in ports, with Russia saying Ukrainian sea mines prevented safe passage and Ukraine citing a Russian naval blockade.

The Ukrainian Naval Forces press service said two Russian missile carriers “capable of carrying up to 16 missiles” were ready for action in the Black Sea. He said that only shipping lanes that had been established through multilateral treaties could be considered safe.

As Ukraine tries to fend off the Russian invasion, the country’s officials have pushed Western nations for more sophisticated and powerful weapons. The US Department of Defense did not confirm a CNN report on Friday that said the Biden administration was preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoliy Antonov, on Saturday called such a move “unacceptable” and called on the Biden administration to “drop claims of Ukraine’s military victory.”

A Telegram post published on the Russian embassy’s official channel quoted Moscow’s top diplomat in Washington as saying “the unprecedented pumping of weapons into Ukraine significantly increases the risks of an escalation of the conflict.”

Moscow is also trying to scare Sweden and Finland’s determination to join NATO. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its navy has successfully launched a new hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea. The ministry said the newly developed Zircon hypersonic cruise missile had hit its target some 1,000 kilometers away.

If confirmed, the launch could spell trouble for NATO travel in the Arctic and North Atlantic. Zircon, described as the world’s fastest non-ballistic missile, can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead, and is said to be impossible to stop with current missile defense systems.

Moscow’s claims, which could not be immediately verified, came a week after Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that Russia would form new military units in the west of the country in response to offers from Sweden and Finland to join. to NATO.

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