‘Relentless’: Russia squeezes Ukrainian strongholds in the east

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces attacked the last Ukrainian strongholds in a separatist-controlled eastern province of Ukraine on Friday,…

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces on Friday attacked the last Ukrainian strongholds in a separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine province, including a city where authorities said 1,500 people have been killed and 60% of residential buildings have been destroyed. been destroyed since the beginning of the war. .

Ukraine’s foreign minister warned that without a new injection of foreign weapons, Ukrainian forces would not be able to prevent Russia from taking Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, places that are crucial to Russia’s goal of capturing the entire Donbas industrial region of Ukraine. Ukraine.

The cities are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the region. Russian forces have made slow but steady gains as they bombed and sought to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk.

“The Russians are hitting the residential neighborhoods relentlessly,” regional governor Serhiy Haidai wrote in a Telegram post on Friday. “Residents of Sievierodonetsk have forgotten when was the last time there was silence in the city for at least half an hour.”

Russian shelling has killed four people in the city in the last 24 hours, he said.

Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said Thursday night that at least 1,500 people have been killed in Sievierodonetsk since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Around 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, down from the pre-war population of around 100,000, and 60% of residential housing. Buildings have been destroyed, he said.

Stryuk said a Russian reconnaissance and sabotage group entered a hotel in the city and the main road between neighboring Lysychansk and the southwestern city of Bakhmut remains open, but travel is dangerous. He said only 12 people were able to be evacuated on Thursday.

In Donetsk, the other province in the Donbas region, Russian-backed rebels on Friday claimed to have seized control of Lyman, a major railway hub north of two other key cities that remained under Ukrainian control. There was no immediate confirmation from Ukrainian officials.

With Ukraine’s hopes of stopping the Russian advance fading, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations to provide his country with more weapons so its defenders would be equipped to “push back (Russian forces). )”.

“We need heavy weapons. The only position where Russia is better than us is the number of heavy weapons they have. Without artillery, without multiple rocket launch systems, we won’t be able to push them back,” Kuleba said in a video posted on Twitter Thursday night.

He said the situation in the east was “even worse than people say. … If you really care about Ukraine, guns, guns, and guns again.”

In his late-night address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had some harsh words for the European Union, which has not agreed to a sixth round of sanctions that includes an embargo on Russian oil.

“Of course, I am grateful to our friends who are promoting new sanctions,” the Ukrainian leader said. “But where did those blocking the sixth packet get so much power from? Why are they still allowed to have so much power, even in intra-European proceedings?

Zelenskyy also spoke bluntly about the stakes in the battle for eastern Ukraine.

“The pressure on Russia is literally a matter of saving lives,” he said. “And every day of delay, weakness, various disputes or proposals to ‘appease’ the aggressor at the expense of the victim, new Ukrainians are killed. And new threats to everyone on our continent.”

Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions already imposed over the war, seeking to shift the blame for a growing global food crisis that has been exacerbated by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products while it was under attack.

Britain immediately accused Russia of “trying to bail out the world”, insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a senior US diplomat criticized the “sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness” of the invasion.

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Scholars reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Andrés Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.

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