- Severodonetsk city center to fight for eastern Ukraine
- Hundreds are trapped at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk
- NATO defense ministers are scheduled to discuss military aid to Ukraine
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine showed no sign of heeding Russia’s ultimatum to hand over the eastern city of Severodonetsk early on Wednesday as NATO defense ministers met in Brussels to discuss sending more heavy weapons to replenish Kyiv’s dwindling stockpile.
Russia had told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant in the devastated city to stop “absurd resistance and lay down arms” as of Wednesday morning, pressuring their advantage in the battle for control of eastern Ukraine.
Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defense Administration Center, told Interfax news agency that civilians would be allowed out via a humanitarian corridor.
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Ukraine says more than 500 civilians and soldiers are trapped inside an Azot chemical plant, where its forces have withstood weeks of Russian bombardment and assaults that have reduced much of Severodonetsk to rubble.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region containing Severodonetsk, posted online just before the 8 a.m. Moscow deadline (0500 GMT) deadline: “It’s getting harder, but our army is blocking the enemy from three directions at once.”
“They defend Severodonetsk and do not allow them to advance to Lysechhansk,” he said, referring to the Ukraine-controlled twin city on the opposite bank of the Seversky Donet River.
However, the Russians are close, the population is suffering, and the houses are being destroyed.”
Luhansk is one of two eastern provinces claimed by Moscow on behalf of separatist proxies. Together they make up the Donbass region, an industrial region of Ukraine on which Russia focused its attack after it failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in March.
The Ukrainian General Staff said in the early hours that its soldiers were still repelling Russian attacks on the city.
British intelligence said fighters at the chemical plant could stay underground, and Russian forces would likely remain focused on the plant, preventing them from diverting their firepower elsewhere.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the accounts of the battlefield or what happened after the alert passed.
The bombing of Azot reflects the earlier siege of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians took shelter from Russian bombardment. Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken into Russian custody.
The Russian attack on Severodonetsk – a city that had a population of barely more than 100,000 people before the war – is the current focal point of the so-called Battle of Donbass.
Kyiv said between 100 and 200 of its soldiers are being killed every day, while hundreds of others are wounded in the bloodiest battle since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
Ukraine said on Tuesday it was still trying to evacuate civilians after Russian forces destroyed the last bridge linking Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk, which is located on high ground on the western bank of the Seversky Donets River.
With all bridges leading from Sievierodonetsk now destroyed, Ukrainian forces risk being encircled.
“We have to endure … the more losses the enemy incurs, the less power it will have to continue its aggression,” Zelensky said in a speech late on Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials have renewed their appeals to the United States and its allies to send in artillery, tanks, drones, and other heavy weapons and the best.
Western countries have promised weapons that meet NATO standards – including advanced US missiles. But their deployment takes time, and Ukraine will require steady Western support to transition to new supplies and weapons systems as its Soviet-era arms and ammunition stocks dwindle.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is leading the meeting in Brussels on Wednesday on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministerial meeting. This is the third time that a group of about 50 countries has met to discuss and coordinate aid to Ukraine.
In May, the US Senate passed a bill to provide $40 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, including $15 billion for defensive measures, and the promise of advanced long-range missile systems, drones, and artillery.
But Zelensky said Ukraine does not have enough anti-missile systems to protect its cities, adding that “there can be no justification for delaying in providing them.”
‘Unable to leave’
Russia has not provided regular figures on its losses, but Western countries say they have been huge as President Vladimir Putin seeks to force Kyiv to relinquish full control of Donbass and a swathe of southern Ukraine. Putin describes the war as a special military operation.
Momentum in Sievierodonetsk has changed several times over the past few weeks – Russia has focused its overwhelming artillery firepower on urban areas to wipe out resistance, then sends in ground forces vulnerable to counterattacks.
Elsewhere in Donbass, Ukraine says Russia plans to attack Slovenia from the north and along a front near Bakhmut in the south.
During the past week, critical infrastructure including homes, schools, hospitals and markets have been attacked, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York, in Donetsk province.
“This has made life almost unbearable for people who are also facing severe water shortages, sometimes unable to leave their homes for several days in a row due to the fighting,” Dujarric said.
In the south, the Ukrainian military said it launched three air strikes on troop buildups, fuel depots and military equipment in the Kherson region.
While Western sanctions have severely affected the Russian economy, global shortages of oil and grain have driven up energy and commodity prices. Putin’s speech on Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will be closely watched. Read more
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Rami Ayoub, Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher. Editing by Grant McCall, Simon Cameron Moore and Frank Jack Daniel
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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