Kyiv, Ukraine, May 20
On Friday, Russian forces shelled areas of eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region by land and air, destroying homes in residential neighborhoods and killing a number of civilians, Ukrainian officials said. .
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the assaults had turned Donbass into “hell”.
As the war neared its three-month mark, the Ukrainian General Staff said massive artillery barrages, including several rocket launchers, hit civilian infrastructure.
Russian planes also struck targets, the general staff said in a statement.
“The Russian army has started very intensive destruction of the city of Sievierodonetsk, the intensity of shelling has doubled, they are shelling residential areas, destroying house by house,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said via his Telegram channel.
“We don’t know how many people died because it’s just impossible to walk through and look at every apartment,” he said.
Earlier reports had said 13 civilian deaths in the Lugansk region of Donbass over the past day, including 12 in Sievierodonetsk, which is on a river about 110 km (70 miles) northwest of the capital regional.
“Donbass is completely destroyed,” President Zelenskiy said in a speech on Thursday evening. “It’s hell out there – and that’s no exaggeration.”
Reuters could not independently verify the reports and Russia denies targeting civilians.
In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared that the “liberation of the Lugansk People’s Republic” would soon be completed.
The industrial region includes Donetsk and Luhansk regions, parts of which are controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
“Groupings of the Russian armed forces, as well as units of the people’s militia of the people’s republics of Luhansk (Luhansk) and Donetsk, continue to expand their control over the territories of Donbass,” Shoigu said in a speech.
Russia’s focus on Donbass follows its failure to capture the capital Kyiv at the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s invasion on February 24.
In weeks of war pitting Russian military might against fierce Ukrainian resistance, thousands have been killed and entire towns destroyed in Europe’s worst crisis in decades .
Almost a third of Ukrainians have fled their homes, including more than 6 million who left the country in a refugee exodus, while others remain trapped in cities pulverized by Russian bombardment.
Britain’s military intelligence said Friday that Russia is likely to step up its operations in Donbass once it finally secures the southern port city of Mariupol – the scene of a week-long siege and the most significant success of Russia in a campaign of mixed fortunes for the Kremlin.
In a sign of Russia’s need to step up its war effort, Moscow’s parliament said it would consider a bill allowing Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to enlist in the war effort. ‘army.
Putin calls the invasion a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists – a claim kyiv and its Western allies see as a baseless pretext for unprovoked war.
The Kremlin chief was due to hold a security council meeting later Friday.
Western powers, which have strongly condemned Russia’s actions and sought to isolate Moscow with a range of sanctions, have stepped up their support for Ukraine.
On Thursday, the rich Group of Seven countries agreed to provide Ukraine with $18.4 billion to compensate for lost revenue as war destroys its economy.
The US Senate has approved nearly $40 billion in new aid for Ukraine, by far the largest US aid package to date.
The White House is also working to get advanced anti-ship missiles into the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat the Russian naval blockade, which has largely halted Ukraine’s food exports.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia of using food as a weapon by holding supplies hostage not only for Ukrainians, but also for millions of people around the world.
The war caused a spike in world prices for grain, cooking oil, fuel and fertilizer.
The European Union said it was exploring ways to use the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction, while the United States did not rule out the possibility of imposing sanctions on the countries who buy Russian oil.
Last week Russia scored its biggest victory since the invasion began, with the government in kyiv ordering the defenders of a steel mill in Mariupol to withdraw after a prolonged siege.
British military intelligence said up to 1,700 troops were likely to have gone to the Azovstal steelworks.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu put the number of those who laid down their arms at around 2,000.
Ukrainian officials, who have tried to organize a prisoner exchange, declined to comment on the number, saying it could jeopardize rescue efforts.
Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy chief of the Azov regiment defending the steel plant, released an 18-second video on Thursday in which he said he and other commanders were still inside the plant.
“There is a certain operation going on, the details of which I will not divulge,” he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of Azovstal prisoners now held by Russia, but it did not give a specific number.
The leader of the Russian-backed separatists who control the region said nearly half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks.
The injured were given medical treatment while those who were fit were taken to a penal colony and were treated well, he said. Reuters