Russia pushes Ukrainian defenders to outskirts of key eastern city

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  • Russian forces step up attack on key eastern town
  • Ukrainians may withdraw but will not abandon city – governor
  • Ukraine to launch ‘Book of Executioners’ to detail war crimes
  • Turkey and Russia mull UN plan to allow Ukrainian grain exports

KYIV/SLOVIANSK, Ukraine, June 8 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces withdrew to the outskirts of the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday in the face of a fierce Russian attack, the regional governor said, another big move in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Russia has concentrated its troops and firepower on the small eastern town in recent weeks to secure the surrounding province on behalf of separatist proxies. Ukraine has pledged to fight there for as long as possible, saying the battle could help shape the future course of the war.

After claiming to have repelled Russian forces and secured half the city in a surprise counterattack last week, the governor of the surrounding Luhansk region said Wednesday afternoon that most of the city was at again in Russian hands.

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“…Our (forces) only control the outskirts of the city again. But the fighting continues…it is impossible to say that the Russians have complete control of the city,” Serhiy Gaidai told RBC-Ukraine media. . .

He had earlier predicted that Russian forces would intensify their bombardment of both Sievierodonetsk and its small twin town of Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River.

Ukrainian police have released footage showing the evacuation of elderly people from Lysychansk. Evacuations had been interrupted for almost a week by the bombardment of the main road.

Russian forces have 10 times more equipment than Ukrainian troops in some areas of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a briefing. Ukraine has urged its Western allies to speed up the delivery of weapons, saying the situation will become very difficult for the country if Russia crosses its lines to the east.

Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground in Sieverodonetsk.

Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and its allies say Moscow has launched an unprovoked war of aggression, killing thousands of civilians and razing towns. United Nations figures show that more than 7 million people have crossed the Ukrainian border since the Russian invasion on February 24.

“God Saved Me”

Luhansk and the adjacent province of Donetsk form Donbass, claimed by Moscow for its proxies who have held the eastern parts of the region since 2014. Moscow is attacking the Ukrainian part of Donbass from the north, east and south in an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces in the region.

West of Siervierodonetsk in Sloviansk, one of the main Donbass towns still held by Ukraine, women with young children lined up to collect aid while other residents carried buckets of water through the city.

Most residents have fled, but authorities say around 24,000 people remain in the town, in the path of an expected assault by Russian forces massed to the north.

Albina Petrovna, 85, described the moment her building was caught in an attack, which shattered its windows and destroyed its balcony.

“Shards of glass fell on me but God saved me, I have scratches all over…” she said.

Russia has focused on Donbass since its forces were defeated on the outskirts of Kyiv in March.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said two people had been killed and two injured in the Lugansk region in the past 24 hours, five civilians had been injured in the Donetsk region and four killed and 11 injured in the Luhansk region. Kharkov.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, residents were clearing rubble from the previous day’s shelling. Ukraine pushed back Russian forces from the city’s outskirts last month, but Russia continues to strike it sporadically.

CCTV footage showed the moment on Tuesday night a suspected missile hit a shopping mall that included a supermarket, scattering debris and goods. Footage filmed from a drone showed a gaping hole in the roof of the tall building.

“The pillars of support are completely destroyed,” said supermarket manager Svitlana Diulina, adding that no one was injured in the attack.

‘BOOK OF THE EXECUTIONERS’

Zelenskiy said Ukraine would launch a “Book of Executioners” next week to detail war crimes. Read more

Ukraine has opened more than 16,000 investigations into possible war crimes, filed eight court cases and identified 104 suspects, its attorney general said. Moscow rejects accusations that its forces committed crimes. Read more

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters and Western countries accuse Russia of creating a risk of global famine by blockading Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Moscow says Western sanctions are responsible for food shortages.

Turkey, a NATO member with good relations with Russia and Ukraine, has tried to broker negotiations to open Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks and said a UN-backed deal on ports was possible with further negotiations. Read more

Lavrov said Ukrainian ports could be opened, but Ukraine would have to clear them first. Ukraine dismissed Russia’s assurances as “empty words” and cited Russian attacks on farmland and agricultural sites in the south as exacerbating the crisis.

The Russian-installed administration in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine plans to hold a referendum later this year on joining Russia, Russian news agencies reported. . Russian officials based in Kherson province, further west, have announced similar plans.

Ukraine and its Western allies regard any planned referendum in the occupied areas as illegal and proof that Russia’s real goal is territorial conquest. Read more

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Reuters reporting; Written by Himani Sarkar, Gareth Jones and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Michael Perry, Peter Graff and Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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