Russians advance towards the center of a key Donbass city in Ukraine

  • Russian forces slowly advance on downtown Sievierodonetsk -Governor
  • 15,000 civilians remained in Sievierodonetsk
  • EU breaks deadlock over Russian oil ban
  • Zelenskiy says situation in Donbas remains ‘extremely difficult’
  • Biden says no to rockets that can reach Russia

KYIV/LVIV, May 31 (Reuters) – Russian troops were slowly advancing towards downtown Sievierodonetsk, a regional governor said on Tuesday, taking stock of a pocket of Ukrainian resistance that has held back the wider Russian offensive in the east of the Donbass. Region.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Lugansk region, told Ukrainian state television that some 15,000 civilians remained in Sievierodonetsk, as most of the city’s 120,000 residents had fled the brutal artillery bombardment. Russian.

Preparing for the worst, Gadai said Ukrainian troops defending Sievierodonetsk might retreat across the Siverskyi Donets River to the town of Lysychansk to escape encirclement.

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As Russia’s offensive continued in Ukraine’s Donbass region, the European Union on Monday agreed to ban most Russian oil imports, a move designed to blow the Kremlin’s wartime finances.

In the bloc’s toughest sanction on Moscow since invading Ukraine three months ago, European Council President Charles Michel said the ban agreed at an EU summit in Brussels on Monday would immediately cover more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia and cut a “huge source of funding for its war machine.” Read more

EU leaders said they had agreed to cut oil imports from Russia by 90% by the end of this year, with exemptions for Hungary – a landlocked country that relies heavily on crude routed from Russia – and others concerned about the economic impact of the ban. Read more

They also agreed to cut Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT system and ban three other Russian public broadcasters, Michel added.

The announcement came as Russian forces advanced towards key objectives in Donbass, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation remained “extremely difficult”.

Russia seeks to seize the whole of Donbass, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk, which Moscow claims in the name of separatist proxies.

Capturing the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk would give Moscow effective control of Luhansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of war.

The head of the Moscow-backed Lugansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, told TASS that a third of Sievierodonetsk was “already under our control” but progress has been slower than expected.

The advance of Russian troops was complicated by the presence of several large chemical plants in the Sievierodonetsk region, TASS reported.

In the south, Kyiv said its forces had pushed Russian troops back to defensive positions in Andriyivka, Lozove and Bilohorka, villages on the southern bank of the Inhulets River that forms the border of Kherson province, where Moscow is trying to consolidate control.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims of either side.

Ukraine has called on the West to send more long-range weapons, but US President Joe Biden has said Washington will not send Ukrainian rocket systems that can reach Russia, a move the vice president of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, called it “rational.” Read more

Zelenskiy said Russian forces again shelled the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Monday, as well as the border region of Sumy, which was hit from inside Russia.

Russian shelling reduced much of Sievierodonetsk to rubble, but Ukrainian defense slowed the wider Russian campaign in the Donbass region. Read more

TEMPORARY PIPELINE EXEMPTION

Efforts to agree an EU oil embargo had been stymied by Hungary’s refusal to agree to a ban on Russian imports it receives via the huge Soviet-era ‘Friendship’ pipeline that crosses the ‘Ukraine.

Michel told a press conference that there was a “temporary exception for oil transported by pipeline to the EU”, but added: “We want to come back to the European Council as soon as possible in order to deal with this exception. temporary and to make sure that we can target all Russian oil.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in talks Monday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said Russia was ready to facilitate unhindered grain exports from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey, according to the Kremlin.

Western leaders have chastised Russia for blockading Ukrainian ports, sending prices for grain and other commodities skyrocketing. The UN declared a worsening global food crisis and tried to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports. Read more

“The focus was on ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov Seas and eliminating the threat of mines in their waters,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s call with Erdogan.

Putin said that if the sanctions were lifted, Russia could export large volumes of fertilizers and agricultural products.

Zelenskiy also spoke with Erdogan and said he discussed food security and defense cooperation, “and, of course, how to speed up the end of this war.”

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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