Ukraine says it still controls the Sievierodonetsk plant that houses hundreds

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Kyiv (AP) — Heavy fighting broke out in Sievierodonetsk, but the region’s governor said Ukraine still controlled an industrial zone and a chemical plant in the eastern city, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering from relentless Russian bombardment.

A Russian-backed separatist group claimed on Saturday that 300 to 400 Ukrainian fighters were also trapped at the Azot plant.

Earlier, the governor, Serhiy Gaidai, admitted that Russian forces now control most of the small town in Lugansk province and said Russian shelling of the plant had caused a huge fire after an oil leak. It was not known if the fire was still burning on Sunday.

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In neighboring Donetsk province to the west, Russian media reported that a huge plume of smoke could be seen after an explosion in the town of Avdiivka, which is home to another chemical plant.

Sievierodonetsk has become the epicenter of the battle in eastern Ukraine for control of the industrialized Donbas region, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Weeks of fighting have pulverized parts of the city and have been some of the bloodiest since Moscow began its invasion on February 24.

After being forced to scale back its initial campaign goals, including withdrawing troops that had been threatening Kyiv, Moscow has turned to expanding control in Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists have held a swath of territory since 2014.

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Putin calls the invasion a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.

“The information about the blockade of the Azot plant is a lie,” Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging application. “Our forces are occupying an industrial zone in Sievierodonetsk and destroying the Russian army in the city.”

Ukraine has said some 800 people were hiding in bomb shelters below the plant, including employees and residents of Sievierodonetsk.

Rodion Miroshnik, a Russian-backed representative of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said Ukrainian forces could be holding several hundred civilians “hostage.”

Ukraine’s armed forces said they had repulsed a Russian attack on three small towns northwest of Sloviansk in Donetsk province, while fighting continued on a fourth settlement in the area, as well as east of the city.

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In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian military was gradually liberating territory further west in the Kherson region and had had some successes in Zaporizhzhia.

“We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” he told a conference in Singapore via video link. “It is on the battlefields of Ukraine that the future rules of this world are decided.”

Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield reports.

Ukraine has called for faster deliveries of heavy weapons from the West to turn the tide of the war.

Ukrainian forces have proven more resilient than expected, but the US-based Institute for the Study of War said that as they use up their last stockpiles of Soviet-era weapons and ammunition, they will need Western support. constant.

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Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk, said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling on Saturday and at least 10 wounded.

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, some students returned to their destroyed school to hold a prom, dance and pose for photos in the ruins.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will visit Kyiv ahead of a Group of Seven summit in late June, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported, citing French and Ukrainian government sources.

None of the three have been to Kyiv since the Russian invasion. Macron has tried to hold a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a stance that some Baltic and Eastern European countries see as undermining efforts to push him into negotiations.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union executive’s opinion on Ukraine’s application to join the EU would be ready next week.

All 27 EU governments would have to agree to grant candidate status to Ukraine, after which there would be extensive talks on the reforms required before the country could be considered for membership.

Volodymyr Trush, governor of the Ternopil region in western Ukraine, said on Saturday night that there was a Russian airstrike in the Chortkiv city area. Russian planes had not attacked the area since early April.

Local authorities cut off natural gas as they worked through “the aftermath of the explosion,” Trush said, but did not elaborate. The mayor of Chortkiv urged all residents to stay in shelters.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder; Additional Reuters Bureau Reporting; Writing by Kim Coghill, Edmund Blair, Frances Kerry and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and William Mallard)



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