Russia presses eastern Ukraine, Zelensky says situation 'very difficult'

Dmitry Zaks - Agence France-Presse
Russia presses eastern Ukraine, Zelensky says situation 'very difficult'
Ukrainia's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen during his address by video conference as part of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 23, 2022. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is back in the Swiss ski resort after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, it had to hold its traditional annual meeting online. And the Omicron variant has forced it to be postponed again this year from January to May.
AFP / Fabrice Coffrini

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Russia pressed its onslaught on eastern Ukraine Saturday, saying it had captured the strategic town of Lyman and claiming to have surrounded the urban center of Severodonetsk.

"The situation is very difficult, especially in those areas in Donbas and Kharkiv region, where the Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result for itself," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address.

His remarks came as Russia, in another exercise in military muscle-flexing, said it had successfully tested hypersonic missiles in the Arctic.

A Ukrainian official denied Moscow's claim that Severodonetsk had been encircled, saying government troops had repelled Russian forces from the outskirts of the key city.

After setbacks in its attacks on Kyiv and Kharkiv, Russia has been waging all-out war for the eastern Donbas — Ukraine's industrial heartland, where Zelensky has accused Moscow of carrying out a "genocide" and where another Ukrainian official denounced Russia's "scorched-earth tactics".

"The town of Krasny Liman has been entirely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists," the Russian defence ministry said Saturday, using Moscow's name for Lyman and confirming an announcement made a day earlier by pro-Moscow separatists.

Lyman lies on the road to Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk.

Russian forces have been closing in on Severodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk in Lugansk province.

Regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said Russian shelling continued on Severodonetsk as Ukrainian soldiers fought to oust the invading forces from a hotel on its edges.

A Lugansk police official cited by Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti said late Friday that Severodonetsk was "now surrounded".

But Gaiday told Ukrainian television that "Severodonetsk has not been cut off... there is still the possibility to deliver humanitarian aid."

Regional officials on Saturday reported the deaths of three civilians at Russian hands, one each in the eastern towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and one in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

"Ukraine will definitely win this war," Zelensky told Dutch television station NOS. 

"The question is at what cost."

France, Germany urge talks

The Russian assault on Ukraine, launched on February 24, has left thousands dead on both sides and forced 6.6 million people out of the country.

Moscow has gained control over parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, including port cities Kherson and Mariupol.

Other Ukrainian ports have been cut off from the world by Russian warships, blocking grain supplies from being transported out.

Russia and Ukraine supply about 30 percent of the wheat traded on global markets.

Russia has tightened its own exports and Ukraine has vast amounts stuck in storage, driving up prices and cutting availability across the globe.

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly rejected any responsibility, instead blaming Western sanctions.

But on Saturday, he told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call that Russia was "ready" to look for ways to allow more wheat onto the global market.

"Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports," the Kremlin quoted him as saying.

He also called for the lifting of sanctions to allow "an increase in the supply of Russian fertilisers and agricultural products" onto the global market.

Macron and Scholz urged Putin to hold "direct serious negotiations" with Zelensky, the German chancellor's office said.

And they demanded Russia free 2,500 Ukrainian fighters taken prisoner after surrendering earlier this month at a sprawling steelworks in Mariupol.

Putin warns on weapons

Zelensky said his country was doing everything possible to defend the Donbas from intense artillery and missile strikes.

"Every day we work to strengthen our defence," he said Saturday. "Every day we are approaching the situation when our army will prevail over the invaders technologically and in striking force."

To further help the Ukrainians, Washington is preparing to send advanced long-range rocket systems, US media reports said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm the plans to deliver the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, highly mobile equipment capable of firing up to 300 kilometres (186 miles) that Kyiv has said it badly needs.

But he said Washington was "still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield".

In a phone call Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Zelensky his country would continue to help "provide the equipment they need", his office said.

But Putin warned Macron and Scholz that ramping up arms supplies to Ukraine would be "dangerous" and risk "further destabilisation".

He spoke after his army said it had successfully fired one of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles some 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) across the Arctic.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov meanwhile said on Facebook that his troops had gained valuable experience in operating foreign-made heavy artillery that would have been "impossible to imagine" as recently as March.

In the past month and a half, he said, "we have received more NATO-standard artillery shells than there are Soviet shells available!"

As Zelensky seeks to ramp up international pressure on Moscow, he will speak to EU leaders at an emergency summit Monday on an embargo on Russian oil. Agreement on the measure is being held up by Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has close relations with Putin.

But Moscow said Russia expects to receive one trillion rubles ($15 billion) in additional oil and gas revenues this year, a windfall from the sharp rise in oil prices caused in part by its invasion of Ukraine. — with Patrick Fort in Kharkiv





As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 24, 2022 - 8:07am

President Vladimir Putin says he hopes that Moscow and the West could find a solution to the raging security crisis over Ukraine, but also accused Washington of using Kyiv as a "tool" against Russia.

"I hope that in the end we will find a solution, although it will not be simple," Putin says, indicating he was ready for more talks with the West, which has accused Moscow of massing more than 100,000 troops on the border and plotting to invade Ukraine.

"It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine... but its main task is to contain Russia's development," Putin says. — AFP

June 24, 2022 - 8:07am

The United States is sending a new batch of military assistance to Ukraine, the White House says, with the $450 million shipment including four more advanced rocket systems to use against Russian invasion forces.

"This package contains weapons and equipment, including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems," White House spokesman John Kirby says. Also included are tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition and patrol boats.

The rocket systems known as HIMARS are at the top of Ukraine's wish list as the pro-Western country battles a Russian invasion force advancing through the east of the country with the help of a significant advantage in heavy artillery. — AFP

June 21, 2022 - 8:25am

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says in an interview with NBC News that the two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting with Kyiv's military were "endangering" Russian soldiers and should be "held accountable for those crimes." 

The interview marks the first time the Kremlin has commented on the cases of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans, according to NBC.

"They're soldiers of fortune and they were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel. They were endangering their lives," Peskov tells the network, in English. — AFP

June 19, 2022 - 2:29pm

The war in Ukraine could last "for years", NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned in an interview published Sunday by German daily newspaper Bild, while reiterating calls for Western countries to provide long-term support to Kyiv. 

"We must be prepared for this to last for years," the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said.

"We must not weaken in our support of Ukraine, even if the costs are high -- not only in terms of military support but also because of rising energy and food prices." 

He told Bild that the food and fuel costs are nothing compared to the one paid daily by Ukrainians on the frontline, warning "we would have to pay an even greater price" if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to achieve Moscow's goals in Ukraine.

The NATO chief has in the past week ramped up calls for alliance members to back Ukraine in its fight against Russia's invasion.  — AFP

June 18, 2022 - 1:42pm

President Volodymyr Zelensky hails Brussels' support for Ukraine's European Union bid a historic achievement, as his country's eastern Donas region faced intense Russian shelling. 

Brussels spearheaded a powerful show of European solidarity on Friday by backing Kyiv's bid for EU candidate status, an endorsement that could add Ukraine to the list of countries vying for membership as early as next week. 

The European Commission is set to meet at their Brussels summit on Thursday with all 27 leaders already backing Kyiv’s candidacy and the heads of the bloc's biggest members -- France, Germany and Italy -- giving full-throated support to the idea. — AFP

June 18, 2022 - 10:47am

A Russian state TV channel airs videos on social media of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, stating they had been captured by Russian forces. 

United States President Joe Biden had said earlier Friday he did not know the whereabouts of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans whose relatives lost contact with the pair.

The missing Americans -- including a third identified as a former US Marines captain -- are believed to be part of an unknown number of mostly military veterans who have joined other foreigners to volunteer alongside Ukrainian troops. — AFP

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