Russians focus firepower to capture 2 villages in eastern Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces on Thursday expanded their hold in eastern Ukraine, capturing two villages and vying for control of a major highway in an offensive that could cut supply lines and some frontlines. Ukrainian forces may surround British and Ukrainian military officials said.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces were withdrawn from some areas near the city of Lisichansk, the latest major battlefield in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, to avoid the possibility of encirclement as the Russians sent in reinforcements. And concentrated his firepower in the area. ,

The General Staff of Ukraine said that Russian forces had taken control of the villages of Loskutievka and Rai-Oleksandrivka, and were trying to capture Sirotyn outside Svyarodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region.

“The enemy is burning everything to surround the group of Ukrainian forces,” Luhansk government Serhi Haidai told the Associated Press.

“The Russians are moving without trying to spare ammunition or troops, and they don’t have either,” Haidai said. “They have heavy artillery and an edge over the numbers of troops.”

“A part of the Luhansk region still under Ukraine’s control has defied the Russians and aroused their fury and desire to burn it to the ground,” he said.

For weeks, Russian forces have attacked Svyarodonetsk with artillery and airstrikes, and Ukrainian forces have fought house-to-house battles. Ukrainian forces are hiding at the Azot chemical plant on the edge of the city, where some 500 civilians were also taking refuge.

Haidai said Ukrainian troops were using the plant’s massive underground structures, but added that “the shelling has intensified and that even concrete shelters cannot withstand the bombing.” The Russians are using their entire arsenal – heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft,” he said.

The Russians also suppressed their attack on Lisichansk, which is located on a steep river bank opposite Svyarodonetsk.

Haidai said Lisichansk was also facing a relentless Russian artillery barrage that killed at least one civilian and wounded three others in the past 24 hours. The governor noted that the Russians concentrated more than 100 multiple rocket launchers to “pump up the whole block”.

He said in a sarcastic reference to Russia’s stated goal of the “liberation” of the Donbass, “the Russian military is ‘liberating’ Svyarodonets from life and workplaces.”

Britain’s Defense Ministry noted in its intelligence assessment on Thursday that Russian forces are likely to advance more than five kilometers (three miles) toward the southern approach of Lisichansk from Sunday.

“Some Ukrainian units may have withdrawn to avoid encirclement,” the statement said. “Russia’s improved performance in this area is likely a result of the recent unit reinforcements and heavy concentration of fire.”

Ukraine’s military said the Russians were also moving to overtake the hills towards the highway connecting Lisichansk with Bakhmut, to the southwest, in an attempt to cut off Ukrainian forces’ supply lines.

Haidai said the Bakhmut-Licichansk highway was not being used due to heavy Russian shelling and that Ukrainian forces were getting supplies through an alternative route.

After a failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital in the initial phase of the offensive on February 24, Russian forces have focused on the Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, where Ukrainian forces have fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

The Russian military currently controls about 95% of the Luhansk region and about half of the Donbass’s neighboring Donetsk region.

Asked about the prospects for a political solution, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that “it is possible after Ukraine meets all Russian demands,” adding that “Ukraine is fully aware that What are they?”

The Kremlin has previously demanded that Ukraine accept Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow captured in 2014, and the independence of separatist regions in the east. Moscow also noted that Ukraine should recognize the situation on the ground, a clear reference to other land gains that Russia has made in the south of Ukraine where it occupied the Kherson region and part of the Zaporizhzhya region.

Other Developments:

An online fundraising pitch aimed at helping Ukraine buy three offensive drones has already raised $10.4 million in just 24 hours, a Ukrainian politician and TV personality says.

Serhi Pritula credits “amazing” support among Ukrainians when his charitable foundation launched a $15 million appeal a day earlier for the purchase of Bayraktar drones, such as those already defended by the Ukrainian military against Russian invaders. has used.

He tweeted: “4.6 million dollars to go. The People’s Bayraktar project already has a nationwide crowdfunding. Let’s change it to international! ,

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EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels appeared to be on track to make Ukraine a candidate to join the 27-member bloc, which could take time – not least because of the impact of the war, but to follow. Also a huge rule book.

It is unlikely that accession talks can begin before next year, and joining the EU will provide no security guarantees like membership in NATO – which Kyiv has also sought after strong opposition from Putin’s government.

Several EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the leaders’ summit, said Ukraine would receive the necessary unanimous approval to become a candidate and begin discussions toward accession.

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British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that her country is offering its expertise to help protect Ukraine’s ports and the safe passage of ships for Ukrainian grain exports.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. Russia’s invasion and the blockade of Ukraine’s ports have greatly halted that flow and millions of tons of grain are trapped in silos, jeopardizing food supplies in many developing countries, especially in Africa.

“It is imperative that action is taken within the next month before the new harvest, and we are determined to work with our partners to deliver it,” Truss said in a press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. Said during a visit to Ankara. Discussed measures to end the blockade.

Turkey wants to assemble the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine to organize a United Nations plan that would allow the safe shipment of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports. Cavusoglu said a possible deal could establish a “safe zone” outside Ukraine’s territorial waters.

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that Russia destroyed more than 2,000 educational institutions, including kindergartens, during the war.

In a video address to students and teachers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Zelensky said that in areas where Russian troops made quick progress, “forces were shooting people in the streets, they were torturing people, they Minors – boys and girls are being raped.”

Zelensky also expressed disappointment that Israel had not joined Western-led sanctions against Russia or provided military aid to Ukraine to boost its forces in the war.

Israel relies on good relations with Russia to coordinate security in Syria, where Russia has troops and where Israel continues to launch attacks against enemy positions. It has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

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Yuras Karmanau contributed to this Lviv report. Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv and Suzanne Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.

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