Ukraine urged western countries for faster arms deliveries as better-armed Russian troops stormed the east of the country, and for humanitarian aid to combat growing outbreaks of deadly diseases.
In Sievierodonetsk, the small town that has become the center of Russia’s advance into eastern Ukraine and one of the bloodiest flashpoints in war well into the fourth month, further heavy fighting was reported.
The war in the east, on which Russia is turning its attention, is now mainly an artillery battle in which Kiev has no chance, Ukrainian officials say. That means that the tide of events can only be turned if Washington and others live up to promises to send more and better weapons, including missile systems.
“This is now an artillery war,” Vadym Skibitsky, deputy chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
“Everything now depends on what (the West) gives us. Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces,” he said.
Germany, one of the largest arms suppliers since Russia invaded but criticized for being slow in delivering the heavy weapons Kiev says it needs, plans to revise its arms export rules to make it easier for democracies like Ukraine to arm, Der Spiegel reported Friday.
In the south, the mayor of Mariupol — reduced to ruins by a Russian siege — said sanitation systems were broken and appeared to be rotting in the streets.
“There is an outbreak of dysentery and cholera,” Vadym Boichenko told national television. “The war that has cost more than 20,000 inhabitants… unfortunately, with these infection outbreaks, thousands more Mariupolites will be demanded,” he said, adding that some wells were infested with corpses.
Boichenko called on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to establish a humanitarian corridor so that the remaining residents can leave the city, which is now under Russian control.
In a snapshot of the wider impact of the war, the UN food agency said reduced exports of wheat and other food products from Ukraine and Russia could leave up to 19 million more people worldwide with chronic hunger over the next year.
Russia hopes to capture the entire eastern province of Luhansk, which it demands that Ukraine cede to separatists along with neighboring Donetsk. The two provinces make up the Donbas region, where Moscow has been supporting an uprising by separatist proxies since 2014.
To this end, the Kremlin has concentrated its forces in a battle for Sievierodonetsk, which is located in Luhansk.
Ukrainian troops have largely withdrawn from the city’s residential areas but have failed to gain a foothold on the eastern bank of the Siverskiy Donets River. Russian forces are also pushing from the north and south to try to encircle the Ukrainians, but have made limited progress.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia was trying to “break every city in the Donbas”.
“Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut, Sloviansk, many, many others,” he said in his overnight speech. “All these ruins were once happy cities.”
Both sides say they have caused massive casualties. Reuters was unable to immediately verify the battlefield reports.
Zelenskiy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych estimated that on average the Russian army loses five to six times as many fighters as the Ukrainian side.
Asked in a social media interview whether that suggested the Ukrainian military had lost up to 10,000 fighters in the first 100 days of the war, Arestovych said: “Yeah, something like that.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he calls his “special military operation” in Ukraine in February, saying his aim was to disarm and “denazify” Russia’s neighbor. Kiev and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to conquer territory.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday strengthened Washington’s commitment to the region in light of Russia’s actions.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors break the rules that protect us all,” Austin told an Asian security forum in Singapore. “It’s a taste of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
Zelenskiy is expected to provide a virtual address to the conference later today from 0800 GMT.
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