Russian separatists claim control of key city in Ukraine’s Donbas – National

Russia’s separatist proxies in eastern Ukraine claimed full control of the major battleground town of Lyman on Friday, and Ukraine appeared to concede, as Moscow presses its biggest advance in weeks.

Lyman, site of a major railway hub, has been a front-line target as Russian forces press from the north, one of three directions from which they have been attacking Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk People’s Republic said they were now in full control.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appeared to confirm Lyman’s fall in an interview posted on social media overnight, saying the battle there showed Moscow was improving its tactics.

“According to unverified data, we lost the city of Lyman,” Arestovych said in the video, adding that the attack had been well organized. “This shows, in principle, the highest level of operational management and tactical skills of the Russian military,” he said.

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The Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told the Hromadske news outlet that Lyman was “mainly controlled by Russian troops” but that the Ukrainian military had taken up new fortified positions in the area.

After being pushed out of the capital, Kyiv, in March, and out of the outskirts of the second-largest city, Kharkiv, earlier this month, Russian forces are making their biggest advance in weeks in the eastern Donbass region.

Western military analysts say success could set the stage for a protracted conflict.

In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-controlled pocket, Russian forces are attempting to encircle Ukrainian troops in the towns of Sievierodonetsk and Lyshchansk, after breaking through Ukrainian lines further south in the town of Popasna last week.

A man walks in front of a building damaged by the attacks in Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 26.

Natasha Pisarenko/AP

Popasna, reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, was a devastated wasteland of burnt-out high-rise apartments and vandalized municipal buildings.

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Russian tanks and other military vehicles tore through rubble-strewn streets, kicking up dust on their wheels, and low-flying attack helicopters thundered overhead. The bloated body of a dead man in combat fatigues lay in a courtyard.

Natalia Kovalenko had finally come out in the last few days from the basement where she had taken refuge to sleep in the rubble of her own apartment. The balcony had been blown out and the windows had been blown out by the direct hit of a shell.

He looked longingly at the destroyed patio, recounting how two people had died there and eight had been injured by a shell as they went out to cook. Inside her apartment, the kitchen and living room were littered with rubble and rubble, but she had arranged a small sleeping room. She was tired of being stuck in the basement with cats and dogs.

“I just have to fix the window somehow. The wind is still bad. Cold at night,” she said. “We are tired of being so scared. So tired.”

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian President Zelenskyy criticizes calls to swap territory for peace deal with Russia'

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy criticizes calls to exchange territory for a peace agreement with Russia

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy criticizes calls to exchange territory for a peace agreement with Russia

Russian ground forces have now captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.

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Russia’s advance in the east follows a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed Russian forces back from Kharkiv this month. But Moscow has prevented Ukrainian forces from attacking the rear of Russian supply lines to the Donbas.

On Thursday, Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv for the first time in days. Local authorities said nine people were killed. Reuters filmed the shells exploding in a neighborhood, sending clouds of smoke into the sky. A busy sidewalk was littered with broken glass and pools of blood. A park’s coffee kiosk had been destroyed and the windows of a cafe and apartment blocks were blown out.

In the south, where Moscow has also seized a swath of territory since the February 24 invasion, Ukrainian officials believe Russia is seeking to impose a permanent government.

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The Ukrainian army’s southern command said Russia was sending military equipment from Crimea, building a third line of defense to prepare for a possible Ukrainian counterattack, and planting mines on the shoreline of a huge reservoir behind a dam on the Dnipro river that separates the forces.

“All this indicates that Russia will try to keep the occupied territories under its control,” he said.

In a late-night speech, Zelenskiy criticized the European Union for dithering about banning Russian energy imports, saying the bloc was financing Moscow’s war effort with €1bn a day.

“The pressure on Russia is literally a matter of saving lives. Every day of procrastination, weakness, various disputes or proposals to ‘pacify’ the aggressor at the expense of the victim simply means more Ukrainians killed,” she said.

Western countries led by the United States have provided Ukraine with long-range weaponry, including M777 howitzers. Kyiv says it wants longer-range ground weapons, especially rocket launchers, that can help it win an artillery battle against Russian forces in the east.

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US officials say the Biden administration is now considering supplying Kyiv with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which can have a range of hundreds of kilometers.

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Washington had refrained from supplying such weapons in part out of concern of an escalation should Ukraine hit targets deep inside Russia. US officials and diplomats told Reuters that Washington has discussed this with Kyiv.

“We are concerned about escalation, and yet we still don’t want to put geographical boundaries or tie their hands too much with what we’re giving them,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that any arms supplies that might reach Russian territory would be “a serious step towards an unacceptable escalation.”

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to defeat the “Nazis” there. The West describes this as a baseless justification for a war of aggression.

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