Russia aims to take over Ukrainian twin cities

  • As the war enters the fourth month, Russia focuses on the east
  • Russia tries to surround Ukrainian troops in the Twin Cities
  • EU’s von der Leyen says Moscow is militarizing food

KYIV/SLOVIANSK, Ukraine, May 25 (Reuters) – Russian forces attempted to surround Ukrainian troops in eastern twin towns straddling a river as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial region of Donbass where it concentrated its attacks.

Russia is trying to seize the two separatist-claimed Donbass provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

Musa Magomedov, a Ukrainian MP, said Russian forces were shelling Avdiivka, a town just inside the Ukrainian-controlled part of Donetsk, “in a completely inhumane manner”.

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“They are killing civilians and destroying the city we built with so much love,” Magomedov, manager of a coking plant in Avdiivka, said on Telegram.

Ukraine’s military staff said Russia had stepped up the use of aircraft to support ground forces as it lacked supplies of high-precision missiles.

Russian forces have taken control of three towns in the Donetsk region, including Svitlodarsk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty affiliate.

“The situation in Donbass is extremely difficult. All the remaining forces of the Russian army are now concentrated in this region,” Zelenskiy said in a speech on Tuesday evening. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.”

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to an out-of-hours email request for comment.

The easternmost part of Ukraine’s Donbass pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the eastern bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk on the western bank, have become a crucial battleground. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

“The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, where the two towns are among the last territories held by Ukraine. .

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday it repelled nine Russian attacks in Donbass where Moscow troops killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.

Reuters could not immediately verify the information.

In a sign of Ukrainian success elsewhere, authorities in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, reopened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under relentless shelling.

The reopening came after Ukraine pushed Russian forces largely out of artillery range from the northern city, as they did from the capital, Kyiv, in March.

THE THIRD WORLD WAR ?

Three months into the invasion, Russia still has limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine suffered devastation in the greatest attack on a European state since 1945.

More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble.

The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has accused Russia of using food as a weapon. Read more

Billionaire financier George Soros, also speaking in Davos, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of World War III.

“The best and perhaps the only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible,” he said.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, portraying the Kremlin leader as a convicted lunatic who was slaughtering the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.

“It’s a stupid war your Putin has started,” Navalny told a Moscow appeals court via video link from a correctional penal colony. “This war was built on lies.”

Underscoring the global tensions sparked by the war, the United States’ main ally, Japan, dispatched jets on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese warplanes approached its airspace as US President Joe Biden was going to Tokyo. Read more

Meanwhile, in a move that could bring Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver that was set to expire on Wednesday that allowed Russia to pay U.S. bondholders.

Russia had been allowed to continue paying interest and principal and avoid defaulting on its public debt.

Russian lawmakers have given the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, an online government portal showed.[nL5N2XG5UG}[nL5N2XG5UG}[nL5N2XG5UG}[nL5N2XG5UG}

On Monday, Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) became the latest Western brand to announce it was pulling out of Russia, following a similar move by McDonald’s. The trademark of the “Golden Arches” burger chain was lowered near Moscow on Monday.

EXTENDED CONFLICT

Senior Russian officials suggested in comments on Tuesday that the war, which Russia calls a “special operation”, could be prolonged.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Russia would fight as long as necessary to root out “Nazism” in Ukraine, a justification for war the West calls baseless.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately moving slowly to avoid civilian casualties.

Zelenskiy dismissed these statements as “absolutely unreal”.

In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were living underground in trains and stations when authorities asked them to make way on Tuesday.

“Everyone is madly scared because there is still shelling,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who had lived on a subway train for most of the war.

The Donbass fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of the Ukrainian garrison at the port of Mariupol after a siege in which kyiv estimates tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Petro Andryushchenko, an assistant to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol now operating outside the city, said the dead lay in the rubble.

About 200 decomposing bodies were buried in debris in the basement of a high-rise building, he said. The inhabitants had refused to collect them and the Russian authorities had abandoned the site.

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Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidiy in Kharkiv and Reuters reporters in Mariupol and Slovyansk; Written by Costas Pitas and Michael Perry; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Robert Birsel

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