Invasion Day 92 Updates

  • Luhansk’s governor says fighting is fierce for control of a key highway.

  • Ukraine’s armed forces say dozens of cities have been bombed in the past 24 hours.

  • According to reports, 4 killed in shelling in northwestern Ukraine, in Kharkiv.

  • Russia’s Peskov and the West exchange recriminations over food supply problems.

  • World Health Organization will consider resolution on health emergency in Ukraine.

Advancing Russian forces closed in on surrounding Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine, briefly taking up positions on the last highway of a crucial pair of Ukrainian-held cities before being pushed back, a Ukrainian official said on Thursday.

Three months after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has abandoned its assault on the capital, kyiv, and is seeking to consolidate control of the eastern industrial region of Donbas, where it has backed a separatist uprising since 2014.

A woman stands in front of a damaged building in Irpin, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

Thousands of troops are attacking from three sides to try to encircle Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. If the two cities that straddle the Siverskiy Donets river fall, almost the entire Luhansk province of Donbas would be under Russian control.

“Russia has the advantage, but we are doing everything we can,” said Gen. Oleksiy Gromov, deputy head of the main operations department of Ukraine’s general staff.

Lugansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said that around 50 Russian soldiers had reached the road and “managed to settle down” and even set up a checkpoint.

“The checkpoint was broken, they were pushed back… the Russian army doesn’t control the route now, but they are shelling it,” he said in an interview posted on social media.

CLOCK | Ukrainian cities hit by Russian bombing:

Russia bombs more than 40 Ukrainian cities

Salimah Shivji tracks the latest in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He said it was possible that Ukrainian troops would leave “one settlement, maybe two. We need to win the war, not the battle.”

“It is clear that our guys are slowly withdrawing to more fortified positions; we need to contain this horde,” Gaidai said.

A partial view of a building in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, which was damaged as a result of a missile attack. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Western military analysts see the battle for the two cities as a possible turning point in the war, now that Russia has made capturing the east its primary objective.

Moscow calls its actions since February 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls Western-sponsored anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say that Russia has launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

Few cities in Donbas escaping the assault: Ukraine

Reuters journalists operating in Russian-held territory further south saw evidence of Moscow’s advance in the city of Svitlodarsk, where Ukrainian forces withdrew earlier this week.

The city is now firmly under the control of pro-Russian fighters, who have occupied the local government building and hung a red Soviet hammer and sickle flag on the gate.

A man drives a GAZ-21 Volga car past a damaged building in Kharkiv on Thursday. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Drone footage shot by Reuters journalists of the nearby abandoned battlefield showed dozens of craters marking a green field surrounded by destroyed buildings. Pro-Russian fighters milled around the trenches.

Russia’s recent gains in the Donbas follow the surrender of Ukraine’s Mariupol garrison last week and suggest a shift in momentum on the battlefield after weeks in which Ukrainian forces had advanced near Kharkiv in the northeast.

“Recent Russian advances offer a sobering check on near-term expectations,” tweeted defense analyst Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at US-based think tank CNA.

Adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry Vadym Denisenko told a briefing that 25 Russian battalions were trying to encircle the Ukrainian forces.

The head of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valery Zaluzhny, has called for more weapons supplies from the West, in particular “weapons that allow us to hit the enemy at a great distance,” he said on the Telegram social media platform.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later warned that any arms supplies that might reach Russian territory would be “a serious step towards unacceptable escalation.”

Four killed in Kharkiv bombing

The Russian advance has been backed up by a massive artillery bombardment. Ukraine’s armed forces said more than 40 villages in the region had been shelled in the past 24 hours, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 houses and a school.

A man walks past an abandoned building damaged in a missile attack on Thursday, amid Russia’s invasion of the country, in the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region. (Carlos Berria/Reuters)

While the fighting is concentrated in the southeast, Kharkiv in the northeast reported deaths on Thursday. At least four civilians were killed and several wounded in Russian shelling of the city, the regional governor said.

“The occupiers are shelling the regional center again,” Kharkiv region governor Oleh Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app. He urged residents to go to shelters.

Germany’s Scholz says the West remains engaged

World attention this week has focused on Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which has halted exports from one of the world’s largest suppliers of grain and cooking oil. The United Nations says the blockade could worsen world hunger.

Western countries have demanded that Moscow lift the blockade. Russia says that Western financial sanctions against Russia are to blame for the food crisis, although it has not explained how this is related to its naval blockade of Ukrainian ports.

CLOCK | How the war in Ukraine is affecting the food supply in Africa and the Middle East:

Ukraine war deepens global food crisis

The impact of the Ukraine war extends far beyond the country’s borders, as Russian forces destroyed crops and blockaded ports along the Black Sea, affecting food supplies in Africa and the Middle East.

“We do not categorically accept these accusations. On the contrary, we blame Western countries for taking measures that have led to this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

Peskov said that Moscow hopes that Ukraine will accept its demands in future peace talks. He demanded that kyiv accept Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula that Moscow seized in 2014 and recognize the independence of the territory claimed by the separatists.

Addressing dignitaries in Davos, Switzerland, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Russian President Vladimir Putin must not be allowed to dictate the terms of any peace deal.

“There will not be a dictated peace,” Scholz said. “Ukraine will not accept this, and neither will we.”

Two men clean their damaged apartment after a strike in Kramatorsk, in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, a proposal to condemn the regional health emergency triggered by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is due to come before a World Health Organization (WHO) assembly on Thursday, prompting a rival resolution from Moscow that does not mention its own role in the crisis.

The original proposal, backed by the United States and more than 40 other countries, condemns Russia’s actions but stops short of immediately suspending its voting rights at the UN health agency. The Syrian-backed Russian document, which echoes the language of the first text, will also be decided.

Both resolutions express “serious concerns about the ongoing health emergency in and around Ukraine,” but only the Western-led proposal says the emergency is “triggered by the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.”

Britain’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Simon Manley, called Russia’s resolution “a cynical attempt to distract, disrupt and confuse” on Twitter.

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