Key Ukrainian city teeters in a battle of ‘terrifying’ cost

Russian forces appeared on Tuesday to tighten their stranglehold on a strategic eastern city that has become the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Ukraine war, amid growing fears over the fate of hundreds of civilians trapped in an artillery shelled industrial area were.

Ukraine insisted its troops had not relinquished control of Severodonetsk, a small industrial town seen as crucial to the country’s struggle for the Donbass region, but acknowledged the situation was getting worse as Russia the last bridge, which connected them with a sister city on the other side, was severed by the Seversky Donets River.

With the Russian invasion in the middle of the fourth month, Moscow is ramping up defense spending as it advances its campaign to conquer a vast chunk of eastern Ukraine. This was announced by British military analysts on Tuesday.

Away from the Eastern Front, Ukrainian war crimes investigators have been mulling over the latest gruesome evidence of atrocities against civilians committed by Russian forces who occupied areas near the capital Kyiv earlier in the war. Ukrainian authorities say they have exhumed a newly discovered mass grave near the city of Bucha, with some of the bodies showing signs of torture and their hands tied.

Exhumers at a mass grave near Kyiv

A member of a salvage crew works during an exhumation at a mass grave near Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.

(Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)

Russia has insisted war crimes evidence was fabricated, but more than 1,300 bodies have been unearthed around the capital since late March, suggesting the execution of large numbers of non-combatants.

Hundreds of kilometers away in eastern Ukraine, the battle for Severodonetsk, which had a pre-war population of about 100,000, has become one of the most brutal confrontations of the war, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night address to the nation.

“The human cost of this fight is very high for us – it’s just frightening,” said Zelenskyy. The broader conflict in Donbass, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, “will undoubtedly go down in military history as one of the most violent battles in Europe,” he said.

Ukraine’s military said in its Tuesday daily operations report that Russian forces were “trying to gain a foothold in the city center.” British military intelligence said on Tuesday that Russia’s “principal operational effort” remained the attack on Severodonetsk, adding that Moscow forces were likely to have made “small advances in the Kharkiv sector” for the first time in weeks.

Kharkiv, near the Russian border to the north-east, is Ukraine’s second-largest city and maintaining control of it and its environs remains one of Ukraine’s most significant wartime achievements, along with thwarting an earlier attempt by Russian forces to take Kyiv conquer. The failure to subdue either city forced the Kremlin to scale back its war aims and focus instead on conquering the Donbass, where pro-Russian separatists have been battling Ukrainian defenders and gaining control of large areas for eight years.

The battle for Donbass has escalated into a war of attrition, killing up to 200 Ukrainian soldiers a day and taking an appalling civilian toll, according to Ukrainian officials.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it had hit more than 100 targets targeting troop concentrations and military equipment in the past 24 hours. The claims could not be independently confirmed.

Ukraine’s daily demands for more heavy weapons have gained urgency as Russian artillery bombards targets along a battlefront hundreds of kilometers long. Western defense ministers are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss further military aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskyi told Danish journalists in a Tuesday briefing that his country’s ability to fight back is hampered by Russia’s ability to direct long-range fire at Ukrainian troops and cities, which Ukrainian forces are unable to match react.

“We have enough guns,” he said. “What we don’t have enough of is the weapons that really get the range we need to reduce the advantage” of the Russian equipment.

Woman sits on an evacuation train

A woman from the Lysyhansk area, near embattled Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, sits on an evacuation train.

(Bernat Armangue/Associated Press)

The battle for Severodonetsk has taken on somber undertones reminiscent of the grueling and ultimately lost battle of Mariupol, the strategic southern port where Ukrainian defenders held out for weeks in a huge steel mill that also doubled as a civilian shelter. In Severodonetsk, Ukrainian officials say shells are hitting an industrial area where about 500 civilians are sheltering.

The constant advance of the west through the war was clearly visible on site. What began as a calm Tuesday morning was punctuated outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk by the distant rumble of two surface-to-air missiles, their contrails trailing across the blue sky.

The light traffic on the road was almost entirely military or relief-related, with weathered tanks and trucks, mine-resistant vehicles and ambulances cruising down the highways towards Severodonetsk, some 40 miles to the east.

Closer to the front, the Russians regularly shelled the main road, forcing the few travelers in the area to make their way through outlying villages and through fields on dirt roads, adding hours to their journey.

Even in this bucolic setting, a column of smoke could occasionally be seen where a Russian shell had smashed into a hut or landed in a field, starting a fire.

Bulos reported from Kramatorsk and King from Washington. Key Ukrainian city teeters in a battle of ‘terrifying’ cost

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