Russia takes small cities, aims to expand the battle for eastern Ukraine

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AFP) – As Russia underlined progress in its goal of capturing all of disputed eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin tried to shake European determination on Saturday to punish his country with sanctions and continue its supply of weapons that have bolstered Ukraine’s defense.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Lyman, the second small city to fall to Russia this week, has been “completely liberated” by a combined force of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists, who waged an eight-year war in the industrial region of Donbass bordering Russia. Russia.

The Ukrainian train system transported weapons and evacuated citizens through Lyman, a major railway hub in the east of the country. Control of it would also give the Russian military another foothold in the region; It has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets, which so far has hindered the Russian advance into the Donbass.

The Kremlin said Putin had an 80-minute phone call on Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany in which he warned against continuing Western arms transfers to Ukraine and blamed Western sanctions for disrupting the conflict over global food supplies.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron have called for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces, according to the chancellor’s spokesperson. Both urged Putin to enter into serious direct negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to end the fighting, the spokesman said.

A reading of the Kremlin’s call between Macron, Putin and Schulz said that the Russian leader emphasized “the openness of the Russian side to the resumption of dialogue.” According to the reading, the three leaders, who went weeks without speaking during the spring, agreed to stay in touch.

But Russia’s recent advances in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up Donbass, could further embolden Putin. Since the failure to occupy Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Russia has proceeded to seize the last parts of the region not controlled by the separatists.

“If Russia succeeds in seizing these areas, it will likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and will be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion,” Britain’s MoD said in Saturday’s assessment.

Russia intensified its efforts to seize the major cities of Severodonetsk and nearby Lysechhansk, which are the last major Ukrainian-controlled areas of Luhansk Province. Zelensky described the situation in the east as “difficult”, but expressed confidence that his country would win with the help of Western weapons and sanctions.

“If the occupiers think that Lyman or Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are mistaken. Donbass will be Ukrainian.

The governor of Luhansk reported that Ukrainian fighters repulsed an attack on Severodonetsk but that Russian forces were still pressing to encircle them. Speaking to Ukrainian television later on Saturday, Governor Serhiy Haiday said the Russians had seized a hotel on the outskirts of Severodonetsk.

Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Friday that about 1,500 civilians in the city with a pre-war population of about 100,000 died there during the war, including from lack of medicine or from irreversible diseases.

The advance of Russian forces raised fears that the residents would face the same horrors that the people of the southeastern port city of Mariupol experienced in the weeks before its fall. Residents who had not yet fled faced the choice of risking it now or staying.

Just south of Sievierodonetsk, Associated Press reporters saw elderly and sick civilians They were collected in soft stretchers and carried slowly up the stairs of an apartment building on Friday in Bakhmut, a city in northeastern Donetsk province.

Svetlana Lvova, the manager of two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to persuade reluctant residents to leave but said she and her husband would not leave until their son, who was in Severodonetsk, returned home.

“I should know he’s alive. That’s why I’m staying here,” said Lvova, 66.

On Saturday, people who managed to escape from Lysichansk described intense bombing, especially over the past week, that left them unable to leave basement shelters at all.

Yana Skakova said she left town on Friday with her two sons, 18 months and 4 years old. She cried while sitting on a train bound for western Ukraine. She said her husband stayed behind to take care of their homes and animals.

“It’s too dangerous to stay there now,” she said, wiping away her tears.

The siege of Mariupol, which lasted for nearly three months, ended last week when Russia declared full control of the city. Mariupol has become a symbol of mass destruction and human sufferingAs well as the determination of Ukraine to defend the homeland.

The port of Mariupol has reportedly resumed operations after Russian forces completed demining in the Sea of ​​Azov off the once vibrant city. The Russian state news agency TASS reported that a ship bound for the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don entered the port of Mariupol early Saturday morning.

The Kremlin said that Putin assured Macron and Schultz that Russia was working to “establish a peaceful life in Mariupol and other liberated cities in the Donbass.”

Germany and France brokered a 2015 peace deal between Ukraine and Russia that would have granted a significant degree of autonomy to the Moscow-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine. However, the agreement stalled long before the Russian invasion in February. Any hope that Paris and Berlin will forge a renewed peace deal now seems unlikely, with Kyiv and Moscow taking relentless positions.

Ukrainian authorities reported that officials installed by the Kremlin in the captured cities began broadcasting Russian newscasts, introduced Russian district codes, imported Russian school curricula, and took other steps to annex the regions.

Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency quoted Kril Strimosov, a Russian local official appointed by Rossi, as saying Saturday.

The war in Ukraine has caused global food shortages because the country is a major exporter of grain and other commodities. Moscow and Kiev traded accusations over which side is responsible for keeping shipments restricted in the ports, with Russia saying that Ukrainian naval mines prevented safe passage, while Ukraine referred to a Russian naval blockade.

The press service of the Ukrainian Navy said that two Russian missile carriers “capable of carrying up to 16 missiles” are ready for service in the Black Sea. He said only shipping routes established through multilateral treaties could be considered safe.

As Ukraine tries to fend off a Russian invasion, the country’s officials have pressured Western countries to acquire more advanced and powerful weapons. The US Department of Defense did not confirm a CNN report on Friday that said the Biden administration was preparing to send long-range missile systems to Ukraine.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, called the move “unacceptable” and called on the Biden administration to “abandon statements about the military victory of Ukraine.”

“The unprecedented injection of weapons into Ukraine significantly increases the risks of an escalation of the conflict,” a Telegram post on the official channel of the Russian embassy quoted a Moscow diplomat in Washington as saying.

Moscow is also trying to intimidate Sweden and Finland’s intention to join NATO. The Russian Defense Ministry said that its naval fleet has successfully launched a new hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea. The newly developed hypersonic cruise missile Zircon hit its target at a distance of about 1,000 km, the ministry said.

If the launch is confirmed, it could cause a problem for NATO flights in the Arctic and North Atlantic. Zircon, touted as the world’s fastest non-ballistic missile, can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead, and is said to be impossible to stop with current anti-missile defense systems.

Moscow’s claims, which could not be immediately verified, came a week after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia would form new military units in the west of the country in response to efforts by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

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Karmanau reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Andrew Cattell in New York, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed.

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Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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