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Russians step up attack in Donbas; military storms Sievierodonetsk

by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | May 30, 2022 at 9:14 a.m.
An elderly patient boards a medical evacuation train run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) at the train station in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 29, 2022. The train is specially equipped and staffed with medical personnel, and ferries patients from overwhelmed hospitals near the front line, to medical facilities in western Ukraine, far from the fighting. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)


POKROVSK, Ukraine -- Russian and Ukrainian troops traded blows in fierce close-quarter combat Sunday in an eastern Ukrainian city as Moscow's soldiers, supported by intense shelling, attempted to gain a strategic foothold to conquer the region.

Russian forces stormed Sievierodonetsk after trying unsuccessfully to encircle the strategic city, Ukrainian officials said, creating a situation that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described as "indescribably difficult." He said a relentless Russian artillery barrage had destroyed the town's critical infrastructure and damaged 90% of its buildings.

"Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a principal task for the occupation force," Zelenskyy said, adding that the Russians don't care about casualties.


The mayor said the fighting had knocked out power and cellphone service and forced a humanitarian relief center to shut down because of the dangers.

The deteriorating conditions raised fears that Sievierodonetsk could become the next Mariupol, a city on the Sea of Azov that spent nearly three months under Russian siege before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.

Sievierodonetsk, located 89 miles south of the Russian border, has emerged in recent days as the epicenter of Moscow's quest to capture all of Ukraine's eastern industrial Donbas region. Russia also stepped up its efforts to capture the nearby city Lysychansk, where civilians rushed to escape persistent shelling.

The two eastern cities span the strategically important Siverskiy Donetsk River. They are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which makes up the Donbas together with the adjacent Donetsk region.

After failing to seize Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, Russia is focused on occupying parts of the Donbas not already controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told French TF1 television Sunday that Moscow's "unconditional priority is the liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions," adding that Russia sees them as "independent states."

He also suggested other regions of Ukraine should be able to establish close ties with Russia.

But in Luhansk, constant Russian shelling has created what provincial governor Serhiy Haidai called a "severe situation."

"There are fatalities and wounded people," he wrote on Telegram. On Saturday, he said, one civilian died and four were injured after a Russian shell hit a high-rise apartment building.

But some Luhansk supply and evacuation routes functioned Sunday, he said. He claimed the Russians had retreated "with losses" around a village near Sievierodonetsk but conducted airstrikes on another nearby river village.

Civilians who reached the eastern city of Pokrovsk, 80 miles south of Lysychansk, said they held out as long as they could before fleeing the Russian advance.

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said there was fighting at the city's bus station on Saturday. Residents remaining in the city, which had a prewar population of around 100,000, risked exposure to shelling just to get water from a half-dozen wells, and there was no electricity or cellphone service. Striuk estimates that 1,500 civilians in the city have died since the war began, from Russian attacks as well as from a lack of medicines or treatment.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, questioned the Kremlin's strategy of assembling a huge military effort to take Sievierodonetsk, saying it was proving costly for Russia and would bring few returns.

"When the battle of Sievierodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back," the institute said late Saturday.

In Mariupol on Sunday, an aide to its Ukrainian mayor alleged that after Russia's forces gained complete control of the city, they piled the bodies of dead people inside a supermarket. The aide, Petro Andryushchenko, posted a photo on the Telegram messaging app of what he described as a "corpse dump" in the occupied city. It showed bodies stacked alongside closed supermarket counters.

"Here, the Russians bring the bodies of the dead, which were washed out of their graves during attempts to restore the water supply, and partially exhumed. They just dump them like garbage," he wrote.

It was not immediately possible to verify his claim.

Regions across Ukraine were pummeled overnight by renewed Russian airstrikes. On the ground in the eastern Donetsk region, fighters battled back and forth for control of villages and cities.

The Ukrainian army reported heavy fighting around Donetsk, the provincial capital, as well as Lyman to the north, a small city that serves as a key rail hub in the Donetsk region. Moscow claimed Saturday to have taken Lyman, but Ukrainian authorities said their fighters remained engaged in combat in parts of the city.

"The enemy is reinforcing its units," the Ukrainian armed forces' general staff said. "It is trying to gain a foothold in the area."

ZELENSKYY TOURS FRONT

Zelenskyy, meanwhile, checked in on soldiers in Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city, where Ukrainian fighters pushed Russian forces back from nearby positions several weeks ago.

He visited front-line positions of Ukraine's military, handed out state awards and "valuable gifts" to servicemen and servicewomen, and had briefings on the operational situation, according to his website.

The exact time of the visit wasn't specified. A series of air raid sirens went off in the northeastern city within hours of Zelenskyy's visit being announced.

"I want to thank each of you for your service. You risk your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine's independence. Take care of yourself!" Zelenskyy said.

Images from the surprise trip to Kharkiv showed Zelenskyy, in a bulletproof vest, meeting with troops, observing bombed-out Russian military vehicles and inspecting some of the city's thousands of heavily damaged apartment blocks.

During his visit, Oleg Synegubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Association, told Zelenskyy that 31% of the region's territory remains temporarily occupied, and that 5% had been liberated from Russia.

In a video address later Sunday, Zelenskyy praised Kharkiv regional officials but said he had fired the regional head of the country's top security agency for his poor performance.

"I feel boundless pride in our defenders. Every day, risking their lives, they fight for Ukraine's freedom," Zelenskyy wrote on the Telegram messaging app after the visit.

Zelenskyy most recently visited Ukrainian defensive positions in the eastern Donbas region on Feb. 17, a week before Russia's invasion. In early March he made an unannounced visit to the edges of Kyiv while fighting was still going on nearby. Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, is about 300 miles east of Kyiv and about 30 km from the Russian border.

Most of Zelenskyy's recent travel has been to Bucha on the outskirts of the capital, where Russian troops have been accused of atrocities against the civilian population. Zelenskyy went there to survey the damage and to talk to survivors and journalists, often with foreign leaders.

More than 30% of residential buildings in Kharkiv have been damaged by Russian attacks, Zelenskyy was told. During a meeting with officials, Zelenskyy suggested to use the eventual post-war reconstruction to get rid of old Soviet-type blocks of flats across the country, even outside areas of fighting, to be replaced by more modern living spaces -- with bomb shelters.

TURKISH OPPOSITION

Turkey's president has told journalists he still intends to block Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said meetings last week with Finnish and Swedish delegations had not been "at the expected level," noting there had been no steps taken to alleviate Turkey's security concerns.

"As long as Tayyip Erdogan is at the head of the Republic of Turkey, we cannot say 'yes' to countries that support terror joining NATO," he told journalists after a visit to Azerbaijan Saturday, according to the daily Hurriyet newspaper.

Erdogan referred to an interview on Swedish state television with Salih Muslim, a member of the Syrian Kurdish administration in northeast Syria, on the night of the delegation meeting. He cited this as evidence of Sweden's support for Syrian Kurdish militants that Turkey views as an extension of an outlawed Kurdish group that has led an insurgency against Turkey since 1984.

"They are not honest or genuine," Erdogan said and vowed to not allow countries that "nuzzle terrorists to their bosom, feed terrorists on their laps." He also accused Germany, France and the Netherlands of committing the same "mistake" of supporting terror.

The Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, forms the backbone of U.S.-led forces in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey has been fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, since 1984 inside Turkey and northern Iraq, where it has stepped up its operations. Ankara has also led cross-border operations into Syria to push the YPG away from its border, saying they are one and the same as the PKK.

All NATO members must approve the two Nordic nations' historic bid to join the alliance, propelled by alarm at Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, which commands the second-largest army in the alliance, has said it won't allow their accession unless steps are taken, including a lifting of restrictions on weapons sales to Turkey.

Erdogan added that he would be speaking by phone with Russian and Ukrainian leaders today.

Information for this article was contributed by Elena Becatoros, Ricardo Mazalan, Andrea Rosa, Yuras Karmanau and staff members of The Associated Press and Aliaksandr Kudrytski of Bloomberg News (TNS).

  photo  Ukrainian nationals fleeing the ongoing war in Ukraine arrive at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, Sunday, May 29, 2022. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
 
 
  photo  In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, May 29, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, awards a servicewoman as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region. Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as "indescribably difficult." The "Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result" by concentrating its attacks there, he said in a Saturday night video address. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
 
 
  photo  An elderly patient is carried on a stretcher to board a medical evacuation train run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) at the train station in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 29, 2022. The train is specially equipped and staffed with medical personnel, and ferries patients from overwhelmed hospitals near the front line, to medical facilities in western Ukraine, far from the fighting. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, May 29, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy looks on as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region. Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as "indescribably difficult." The "Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result" by concentrating its attacks there, he said in a Saturday night video address. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
 
 
  photo  An elderly patient waits on a stretcher to board a medical evacuation train run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) at the train station in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 29, 2022. The train is specially equipped and staffed with medical personnel, and ferries patients from overwhelmed hospitals near the front line, to medical facilities in western Ukraine, far from the fighting. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  A Donetsk People's Republic militia's multiple rocket launcher fires from its position not far from Panteleimonivka, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, May 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)
 
 
  photo  An elderly patient boards a medical evacuation train run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) at the train station in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 29, 2022. The train is specially equipped and staffed with medical personnel, and ferries patients from overwhelmed hospitals near the front line, to medical facilities in western Ukraine, far from the fighting. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  A patient is carried on a stretcher to board a medical evacuation train run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) at the train station in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 29, 2022. The train is specially equipped and staffed with medical personnel, and ferries patients from overwhelmed hospitals near the front line, to medical facilities in western Ukraine, far from the fighting. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, May 29, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks with his stuff as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region. Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as "indescribably difficult." The "Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result" by concentrating its attacks there, he said in a Saturday night video address. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
 
 



 Gallery: Images from Ukraine, month 4



Print Headline: Russians step up attack in Donbas

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