Ukrainians hold out as Russia storms eastern city on war's 100th day

Ukrainians hold out as Russia storms eastern city on war’s 100th day

  • Too early to write off Sievierodonetsk, governor says
  • Areas held by Russia are a ‘complete disaster’ – Zelenskiy
  • Russia warns US on arming Ukraine
  • UN aid chief is in Moscow for grain talks

KYIV, June 3 (Reuters) – Russian forces advanced deep into the ruined eastern factory city of Sievierodonetsk, but Ukrainian troops were still holding out there on Friday as Russia’s assault on its neighbor entered its 100th day.

A war that Western countries believe Russia planned to win within hours has ground on for more than three months, with Moscow having been driven back from the capital Kyiv but launching a huge new assault in the east.

The past weeks have seen Russia for its forces into the battle for Sievierodonetsk, a small factory city in the east, which Russia must capture to achieve its stated aim of holding all of Luhansk province. Both sides have been taking punishing losses there in a street-by-street battle that could set the trajectory for a long war of attrition to come.

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“I regret to say that the Russian army succeeded in making its way deep into the city…they control most of the city,” Ukrainian regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said in televised comments overnight.

He said about a fifth of the city was now a contested “grey zone”. Ukrainian fighters were holding out in one area, were still able to clear Russians out of some streets, and had captured six Russian prisoners the previous day.

“So I would tell skeptics not to write off Sievierodonetsk. It’s too early to do that. The city is holding on.”

SLOW BUT STEADY PROGRESS

Despite being driven from the north of Ukraine in March after a failed assault on the capital, Russia still controls around a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, about half of which it seized in 2014 and half it captured since launching its invasion on Feb. 24.

The massive Russian assault in the east in recent weeks has been one of the deadliest phases of the war for both sides. Moscow has made slow but steady progress, squeezing Ukrainian forces inside a pocket in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, but has so far failed to encircle them.

Ukrainian troops are being forced back in Sievierodonetsk, but still firmly hold its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskyi Donets river.

Kyiv, meanwhile, is hoping that the Russian advance will leave Moscow’s forces so depleted that Ukraine will be able to launch counter-offensives and recapture territory in the months to come. It has been bolstered in recent days by a promise of medium-range missiles from the United States that would let it strike deep behind Russian lines and neutralize Moscow’s firepower advantage.

“We are expecting more good news on weapon supplies from other partners… We are working to bring the supply of modern combat systems to a much higher level,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an overnight address.

“The entire temporarily occupied territory of our state is now a complete disaster zone, for which Russia bears full responsibility,” he said.

Russia has accused the United States of adding “fuel to the fire” with a new $700 million weapons package for Ukraine that will include advanced rocket systems with a range of up to 80 km (50 miles).

President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly said it had Ukraine’s assurances it would not use the rocket systems to hit targets inside Russia.

Russia says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and allies call this a baseless pretext for a war that has killed thousands, flattened cities, and forced more than 6 million people to flee abroad.

Moscow says Western supplies will not alter the course of its attack.

“Pumping weapons into Ukraine does not change all the parameters of the special operation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked if US plans to sell Ukraine drones that can be armed with missiles could change the nature of the conflict. read more

“Its goals will be achieved, but this will bring more suffering to Ukraine.”

The war and Western sanctions are taking a toll on a global economy still dealing with the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of grain and food oil, and deliveries have been halted by a Russian blockade of its ports. Western countries have called on Moscow to allow shipments to resume. Russia blames Western sanctions for a global food crisis.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths was in Moscow to discuss with Russian officials how the way can be cleared for food shipments.

“The situation remains fluid,” a UN spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said, adding that the United Nations “will do and go anywhere we need to go to push this project forward”.

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Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graff, Costas Pitas and Stephen Coates; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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