Russian forces tightened their hold on the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, cutting off the last routes for civilian evacuation, a Ukrainian official said Monday — a scene that echoed Moscow’s attack on Mariupol last month.
Amid heavy Russian bombing, regional governor Sergei Gaidai said on social media that all bridges outside the city had been destroyed, making it impossible to bring in humanitarian cargo or evacuate civilians.
He said there was still some “access” and that part of the city was still under Ukrainian control.
“They have the ability to send the injured to hospitals, so there is still access,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian service. “It is difficult to supply weapons or reserves. Difficult, but not impossible.”
Ukraine has increasingly called for more Western heavy weapons to help defend Sievierodonetsk, which Kiev says could hold the key to the battle for the eastern Donbas region and the course of the war, now in its fourth month.
“The fighting is so fierce that fighting for not just a street, but a single high-rise building can last for days,” Gaidai said earlier. He is governor of the Luhansk region to which Sievierodonetsk belongs.
Russian artillery fire shelled the Azot chemical plant, which sheltered hundreds of civilians, he said.
“About 500 civilians remain on the site of the Azot factory in Sievierodonetsk, 40 of them are children. Sometimes the army manages to evacuate someone,” he said.
‘Surrender or die’
Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a pro-Moscow separatist spokesman, Eduard Basurin, as saying Ukrainian troops were effectively blocked in Sievierodonetsk and should surrender or die.
The Ukrainian report of civilians trapped in an industrial factory echoes the fall of Mariupol last month, where hundreds of civilians and seriously injured Ukrainian soldiers were trapped for weeks at the Azovstal steel plant.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to restore Russian security and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and its Western allies call this an unfounded pretext for an invasion that has killed thousands of civilians and raised fears of a bigger conflict in Europe.
More than 5 million people have fled the attack and millions are threatened by a global energy and food crisis due to disrupted gas, oil and grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine. Western countries are divided on the best way to put an end to it.
Gaidai said a six-year-old child was among those killed in the latest shelling of Lysychansk. Officials in the Russian-backed separatist-controlled region of Donetsk said at least three people, including a child, were killed and 18 injured by Ukrainian shelling that hit a market in the city of Donetsk.
The Donetsk News Agency showed photos of burning stalls in the central Maisky market and several bodies on the ground. The news agency said 155mm caliber NATO-standard artillery ammunition hit parts of the region on Monday.
Reuters was unable to independently verify either report.
After Moscow failed to take the capital Kiev after the February 24 invasion, Moscow focused on expanding control in the Donbas, which includes Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, where pro-Russian separatists have held territory since 2014, while also tried to take more of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
Along the frontline in the Donbas, fighting poses a new threat as the weather warms, with shelling and rocket fire setting fire to fields and destroying ripening crops.
Lyuba, a resident of the Ukrainian-administered pocket of the Donbas on the front, saw a fire blaze along the fields but said she had no intention of leaving. ‘Where can I go? Who’s waiting for me there?’ she said. ‘It is scary. But it is what it is.’
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak listed equipment he said was necessary for heavy weapons parity, including 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones.
“We are waiting for a decision,” he said, adding that Western defense ministers would meet in Brussels on Wednesday.
Russia released the latest of several recent reports saying it had destroyed US and European weapons and equipment, hoping to send the message that supplying more would be futile.
The Defense Ministry said high-precision air missiles hit near the train station in Udachne, northwest of Donetsk, hitting equipment supplied to Ukrainian troops. There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian side.
Moscow has criticized the United States and other countries for sending weapons to Ukraine and threatens to hit new targets if the West supplied long-range missiles.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)