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Battle rages for Ukraine city

Stronghold in east hit by Russian firepower by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | July 3, 2022 at 3:58 a.m.
FILE - In this image taken from video and provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, claims to show the moment a missile struck the shopping mall in Kremenchuk. While much of the attritional war in Ukraine’s east is hidden from sight, the brutality of Russian missile strikes in recent days on the mall in the central city of Kremenchuk and on residential buildings in the capital, Kyiv, were in full view to the world and especially to Western leaders gathered for a trio of summits in Europe. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)


KYIV, Ukraine -- Russian forces pounded the city of Lysychansk and its surroundings in an all-out attempt to seize the last stronghold of resistance in eastern Ukraine's Luhansk province, the governor said Saturday. A presidential adviser said its fate would be decided within the next two days.

Ukrainian fighters have spent weeks trying to defend the city and to keep it from falling to Russia, as neighboring Sievierodonetsk did in recent days.

"Over the last day, the occupiers opened fire from all available kinds of weapons," Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Saturday on the Telegram messaging app.

A river separates Lysychansk from Sievierodonetsk, and Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said late Saturday that Russian forces had managed for the first time to cross the river from the north, creating a "threatening" situation. He said they had not reached the center of the city, but control over Lysychansk would be decided by Monday.

Volodymyr Nazarenko, the second in command of the Svoboda battalion who was part of the June 24 retreat from Sievierodonetsk, said the Russians had "methodically leveled" the city. He described how Russian tanks targeted one building after another, moving on after each one was destroyed.

"So they use these tactics where barrages of ammunition are used to destroy the city and turn it into a burnt-down desert," Nazarenko said from the relative safety of Bakhmut, a city to the southwest.

He also said Russian troops "obliterated any potential defensive positions with constant artillery and burned down forests to prevent trench warfare."

Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the Donbas, where Russia has focused its offensive since pulling back from northern Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv, in the spring.

Pro-Russia separatists have held portions of both eastern provinces since 2014, and Moscow recognizes all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics. Syria's government said Wednesday that it would also recognize the "independence and sovereignty" of the two areas and work to establish diplomatic relations with the separatists.

In Slovyansk, a major Donetsk city still under Ukrainian control, four people died when Russian forces fired cluster munitions late Friday, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook. He said the neighborhoods that were hit didn't contain any potential military targets.

BELARUS CLAIMS

The leader of neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed Saturday that Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory several days ago but all were intercepted by the air defense system. President Alexander Lukashenko described it as a provocation and noted that no Belarusian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine. There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian military.

Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground for Russia's invasion. Last month, just hours before Lukashenko was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles on Ukraine from Belarusian airspace for the first time.

Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to draw his army into the war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko of how dependent his government is on economic support from Russia.

Lukashenko on Saturday also claimed that two Belarusian truck drivers were killed in Ukraine. Ukraine said the truckers were at a gas station when it was hit by a Russian airstrike in March, but Lukashenko claimed the organs were cut out of their bodies to hide evidence that they were shot.

AIRSTRIKE WRECKAGE

Elsewhere in Ukraine, investigators combed through the wreckage from a Russian airstrike early Friday on residential areas near the Ukrainian port of Odesa that killed 21 people.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova said the investigators were recovering fragments from missiles that struck an apartment building in the small coastal town of Serhiivka. They also were taking measurements to determine the trajectory of the weapons and "the specific people guilty of this terrible war crime," she said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said three anti-ship missiles struck "an ordinary residential building, a nine-story building" housing about 160 people. The victims of Friday's attack also included four members of a family staying at a seaside campsite, he said.

"I emphasize: This is deliberate, direct Russian terror, and not some mistake or an accidental missile strike," Zelenskyy said.

The British Defense Ministry said Saturday that air-launched anti-ship missiles generally don't have precision accuracy against ground targets. It said Russia likely was using such missiles because of a shortage of more accurate weapons.

The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the Russian military is targeting fuel storage sites and military facilities, not residential areas, although missiles also recently hit an apartment building in Kyiv and a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk.

On Saturday, Kremenchuk Mayor Vitaliy Maletskyy said the death toll in the mall attack had risen to 21 and one person was still missing.

Ukrainian authorities interpreted the missile attack in Odesa as payback for the withdrawal of Russian troops from a nearby Black Sea island with symbolic and strategic significance in the war that started with Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow portrayed the troops' departure from Snake Island as a "goodwill gesture" to help unblock exports of grain.

Meanwhile, the director of a charity helping the family of a British man captured in eastern Ukraine said Dylan Healy was detained April 25 at a Russian checkpoint in the south of the Zaporizhzhia region. Dominik Byrne, director of operations at Presidium Network, told reporters that Healy is an aid worker and has no connection either to the Ukrainian or the British military.

Healy is among at least five foreigners, including four Britons, being held by separatists, who accuse them of being mercenaries fighting for Ukraine. Three have been sentenced to death. The charges against Healy were announced Friday.

WINTER PREPARATIONS

Fearing Russia might cut off natural gas supplies, the head of Germany's regulatory agency for energy called on residents Saturday to save energy and to prepare for winter, when use increases.

Federal Network Agency President Klaus Mueller urged house and apartment owners to have their gas boilers and radiators checked and adjusted to maximize their efficiency.

"Maintenance can reduce gas consumption by 10% to 15%," he told Funke Mediengruppe, a German newspaper and magazine publisher.

Mueller said residents and property owners need to use the 12 weeks before cold weather sets in to get ready. He said families should start talking now about "whether every room needs to be set at its usual temperature in the winter or whether some rooms can be a little colder."

The appeal came after Russia reduced gas flows to Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia earlier this month, as European Union countries scramble to refill storage facilities with the fuel used to generate electricity, power industry and heat homes in the winter.

Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom blamed a technical problem for the reduction in natural gas flowing through Nord Stream 1, a pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

The company said equipment getting refurbished in Canada was stuck there because of Western sanctions over Russia's war in Ukraine.

German leaders have rejected that explanation and called the reductions a political move in reaction to the European Union's sanctions against Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, who is also Germany's economy and climate minister and responsible for energy, has warned that a "blockade" of the pipeline is possible starting July 11, when regular maintenance work is scheduled to start. In previous summers, the work has entailed shutting Nord Stream 1 for about 10 days, he said.

The question is whether the upcoming regular maintenance of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline will turn into "a longer-lasting political maintenance," Mueller said.

If the gas flow from Russia is "to be lowered for a longer period of time, we will have to talk more seriously about savings," he said.

According to Mueller, in the event of a gas supply stoppage, private households would be specially protected, as would hospitals or nursing homes.

"I can promise that we will do everything we can to avoid private households being without gas," he said, adding: "We learned from the coronavirus crisis that we shouldn't make promises if we're not entirely sure we can keep them."

He said his agency "does not see a scenario in which there is no more gas coming to Germany at all."

Also on Saturday, German chemical and consumer goods company Henkel said it was considering encouraging its employees to work from home in the winter as a response to a possible supply shortage.

"We could then greatly reduce the temperature in the offices, while our employees could heat their homes to the normal extent," Henkel CEO Carsten Knobel told daily newspaper Rheinische Post.

Hamburg's state government's senator for the environment also expressed concern and said he couldn't rule out that the northern German city would need to limit hot water for private households in the event of a gas shortage.

"In an acute gas shortage emergency, hot water could only be made available at certain times of the day," Jens Kerstan told weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

Earlier this month, economy minister Habeck activated the second phase of Germany's three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies, warning that Europe's biggest economy faced a "crisis" and storage targets for the winter were at risk.

Information for this article was contributed by Maria Grazia Murru and Kirsten Grieshaber of The Associated Press.

  photo  FILE - Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters work to take away debris at a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. While much of the attritional war in Ukraine’s east is hidden from sight, the brutality of Russian missile strikes in recent days on the mall in the central city of Kremenchuk and on residential buildings in the capital, Kyiv, were in full view to the world and especially to Western leaders gathered for a trio of summits in Europe. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)
 
 
  photo  A Ukrainian soldier smiles as he looks at his puppy, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
 
 
  photo  Local officials stand in front of a damaged residential building in the town of Serhiivka, located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Odesa, Ukraine, Saturday, July 2, 2022. A Russian airstrike on residential areas killed at least 21 people early Friday near the Ukrainian port of Odesa, authorities reported, a day after the withdrawal of Moscow's forces from an island in the Black Sea had seemed to ease the threat to the city. (AP Photo/Maxim Penko)
 
 
  photo  Ukrainian servicemen take cover in a shelter at their position at the frontline near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 
  photo  Ukrainian soldiers attend their positions, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
 
 
  photo  Ukrainian servicemen correcting artillery fire by drone at the frontline near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 
  photo  Ukrainian servicemen changing their position at the frontline near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, July 2, 2022.(AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 
  photo  A Ukrainian serviceman prepares to go on duty to his position at the frontline near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 
  photo  Ukrainian servicemen speak in the shelter at their position at the frontline near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 


  photo  Relatives mourn fallen Ukrainian soldier Anatoly Mykolayovych Potaychuk at his funeral Saturday in the small village of Babyntsi, northwest of Kyiv. Potaychuk was killed by Russian artillery fire June 27 in the Kharkiv region. More photos at arkansasonline.com/ukrainemonth5/. (The New York Times/Mauricio Lima)
 
 



 Gallery: Images from Ukraine, month 5



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