The steelworks was the last base of the Ukrainian defenses in Mariupol, which Russia fought for weeks to capture.
Kyiv, Ukraine — Russia on Tuesday claimed it had occupied large parts of eastern Ukraine after a relentless barrage that lasted weeks and the recent deployment of more troops.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow forces had “liberated” 97 percent of the Lugansk region.
Russia appears determined to conquer the entire eastern Donbass part of Ukraine, which consists of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This goal seems to be their most immediate goal in Ukraine.
But while the Kremlin’s forces have superior firepower, the Ukrainian defenders – among the best trained forces in the country – are entrenched and have demonstrated the ability to counterattack.
Shoigu claimed that Russian troops had taken the residential areas of Sieverodonetsk and were fighting to seize control of an industrial area on the outskirts and nearby towns.
Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Lugansk region, was recently the focus of the Russian offensive. Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk are the only two Donbass cities to resist the Russian invasion, backed by local pro-Kremlin forces.
Shoigu added that Russian troops were ramping up their offensive on the town of Popasna, noting that they had taken control of Lyman and Sviatohirsk, as well as 15 other towns in the region.
Popasna is a pre-war town of 20,000 people located about 30 kilometers south of Sievierodonetsk.
A Ukrainian official said on Tuesday that Moscow is sending troop reinforcements in eastern Ukraine as Russian artillery barrage aimed at crushing Ukraine’s defences.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai acknowledged that Russian forces control the industrial outskirts of Sievierodonetsk, one of two cities in the Luhansk region still in Ukrainian hands.
“The toughest street fights continue, with varying degrees of success,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “The situation is constantly changing, but Ukrainians are repelling attacks.”
However, Moscow’s strategy has suffered numerous setbacks since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, including a failed attempt to take the capital Kyiv.
Moscow’s forces also kept up artillery barrage on Lysychansk, a town near Sievierodonetsk almost entirely controlled by Russian forces.
Haidai said Russian troops shelled a local market, school and college building, destroying the latter. Three wounded were taken to hospitals in other parts of Ukraine, he said.
“A total destruction of the city is underway, Russian shelling has intensified significantly in the last 24 hours. The Russians are using scorched earth tactics,” Haidai said.
According to Haidai, Ukrainian forces have repelled ten Russian attacks in the past 24 hours. His report could not be independently verified.
Ukraine receives arms and ammunition from the west to repel relentless Russian attacks. This aid has become a target for Russian artillery and fighter jets.
Russia on Tuesday claimed its forces knocked out two artillery systems provided by the United States and a howitzer provided by Norway.
Major General Igor Konashenkov said Russian artillery fire destroyed other Ukrainian equipment in the east of the country, while Russian Air Force hit Ukrainian troops and equipment concentrations and artillery positions.
Konashenkov’s claims could not be independently verified.
In Kyiv, meanwhile, autopsies were planned for dozens of Ukrainian militants killed at the Azovstal steel plant.
The bodies were brought back to Ukraine by Russian occupiers of the fortress-like complex in the devastated city of Mariupol, where their last desperate stand became a symbol of resistance to Moscow’s invasion.
The Azov regiment was among Ukrainian units that defended the steel mill for almost three months before it surrendered to relentless Russian attacks from land, sea and air in May.
It was unclear how many bodies might remain at the facility.
David Keyton and Oleksandr Stashevskyi in Kyiv; Yuras Karmanau in Lviv; Andrea Rosa in Bachmut; and Sylvie Corbet in Colleville-sur-Mer, France contributed to this story.
https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/russia-steel-mill-bodies/507-3dd851f7-99d0-4bb2-8a59-ff287a1e4df5 Russia begins returning bodies from Mariupol steel plant