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Ukraine fights to repel Russian advance in northern Donetsk | United States and world

By Pavel Polityuk and Simon Lewis

KYIV/KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine has so far blocked any major Russian advances in its northern Donetsk region, but pressure is mounting with heavy shelling of the city of Sloviansk and populated areas neighbours, the Ukrainian army announced on Wednesday. .

Russia and separatist proxies already controlled the southern part of Donetsk province when they effectively completed their takeover of neighboring Luhansk region on Sunday with the capture of the city of Lysychansk, much of which is now in ruins.

Moscow says the ejection of the Ukrainian army from the two regions is at the heart of what it calls its “special military operation” to ensure its own security, a more than four-month offensive that the West calls a war unprovoked.

The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk comprise Donbass, the eastern and heavily industrial region of Ukraine which has become Europe’s biggest battleground for generations and over which Russia wants to wrest control from the separatists it supports.

In its Wednesday evening memo, the Ukrainian military suggested that Russian forces were stepping up pressure on Ukrainian defenders along the northern flanks of Donetsk province.

He said Russian forces were bombarding several Ukrainian towns with heavy weapons to allow ground forces to advance south in the area and close in on Sloviansk.

“The enemy is trying to improve its tactical position…(They) advanced…before being pushed back by our soldiers and retreating with casualties,” the Ukrainian military update said.

Other Russian forces, he added, were aiming to seize two towns en route to the city of Kramatorsk, south of Sloviansk, and were also trying to take control of the main road linking the Luhansk provinces. and Donetsk.

“We are holding back the enemy at the (Luhansk/Donetsk) border,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television. Later he said that Luhansk was still not fully occupied by Russian forces and that Russia had suffered “colossal losses”.

“They will keep trying to advance on Sloviansk and Bakhmut. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.

Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Lyakh said in a video briefing that the city had been shelled over the past two weeks.

“The situation is tense,” he said, adding that 17 residents had been killed there since President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces into Ukraine on February 24.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it was not targeting civilians and said Wednesday it was using high-precision weapons to eliminate military threats.

It said it destroyed two US-made advanced HIMARS rocket systems and their ammunition depots in Donetsk province. Ukraine denied this and said it was using HIMARS to inflict “devastating blows” on Russian forces.

In his overnight video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian fighters were carrying out “tangible strikes” on Russian logistical targets like depots, affecting their offensive potential.

“Finally, Western artillery has started to work powerfully, the weapons we get from our partners. And their accuracy is exactly what we need,” he said.

Ukraine has repeatedly pleaded with the West to send more weapons to repel the invasion that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he spoke with his German and American counterparts on Wednesday, where he said the importance of continued military aid was discussed.

‘NO SAFE ZONES’

In the city of Donetsk, Kramatorsk, which Russian forces are expected to attempt to capture in the coming weeks, Ukrainian soldiers and a handful of civilians raced in green-painted cars and vans on Wednesday. A large part of the population has left.

“It’s almost deserted. It’s scary,” said Oleksandr, a 64-year-old retired steelworker.

He was unlikely to follow official evacuation advice, he said, despite an increase in missile strikes. “I’m not looking for death, but if I meet it, it’s better to be at home,” he said.

The war has also spread outside Donbass. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was under “constant” long-range Russian bombardment, Mayor Ihor Terekhov told Ukrainian television.

“Russia is trying to demoralize Kharkiv but it won’t get anywhere,” he said. Ukrainian defenders pushed Russian armored forces away from Kharkiv early in the war, and Terekhov said about 1 million inhabitants remained there.

South of Kharkiv, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk said the region had been battered by missiles and shelling, while on the south coast, the port of Mykolaiv was also heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, said during a meeting. briefing. The city has already lost about half of its pre-war population of half a million.

“There are no safe areas in Mykolaiv,” he said. “I tell people… they have to go.”

Reuters was unable to immediately verify reports from the battlefield.

Russia says it was forced to try to demilitarize Ukraine after the West ignored its pleas to ensure its former Soviet republic and neighbor would not be admitted to NATO. Moscow says it also needed to root out what it considered dangerous nationalists and protect Russian speakers.

Ukraine and its Western supporters say Russia’s stated goals are a pretext for an unprovoked, imperial-style land grab.

In a sign that Moscow isn’t about to wind down its operations anytime soon, Russia’s parliament on Wednesday passed bills requiring companies to supply goods to the armed forces and forcing employees of some companies to work overtime .

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Michael Perry, Andrew Osborn, Mark Heinrich and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Angus MacSwan, John Stonestreet and Deepa Babington)