Russia eyes another key city amid fighting in east Ukraine

Russian forces are threatening a major urban center in south-eastern Ukraine, the country’s president said, while Ukrainian defenders in an eastern town are waging “bitter street fighting” pivotal in a fight over a major industrial area the Kremlin has vowed to seize.

In the fourth month of the Russian invasion, Ukraine redoubled its requests for more heavy weapons to parry the slow and grueling advances of Moscow troops, supported by relentless artillery fire, in the contested Donbass region, made up of two eastern provinces.

Crucial to this campaign is control of the industrial city of Severodonetsk, one of only two major metropolitan areas in the region that Russia has yet to conquer.

Ukrainian officials say Russia is throwing more and more military resources into the fight, and Western military officials said Tuesday Russian forces appear to be trying to isolate the city by cutting off both northern and southern approaches.

Ukrainian militia officers train with shotguns

Ukrainian militia officers train with shotguns on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv on Tuesday.

(Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)

“Russia will almost certainly need to make a breakthrough” in the region in order to consolidate tactical gains into “operational-level successes” in the wider region, British military intelligence said in its latest assessmentst.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address to the nation that Severodonetsk remains hotly contested. “In the city, fierce street fighting continues,” he said.

Zelenskyi also told his compatriots that Russia is targeting Zaporizhia, a large southeastern city of nearly three-quarters of a million people that is a gateway to central Ukraine. It is the capital of the province of the same name, and served as an important staging post for Ukrainians fleeing badly battered or Russian-occupied areas such as the fallen city of Mariupol.

“We will do everything to defend” Zaporizhia and its environs, Zelenskyy said.

Along the eastern front, civilian suffering has intensified as bombing raids fall on towns and villages in the path of Russia’s military push.

Russian forces have fired on more than 20 populated areas in the Donbass provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, the Ukrainian military said. In an operational report on Tuesday, Ukraine’s military general staff said that Russia is not only aiming shells at towns and villages, but is also launching airstrikes on Donetsk.

The Kremlin says it doesn’t intentionally target civilians — which is seen as a war crime — but on the ground, mostly elderly residents who are left behind face daily punishments that force them to hole up in makeshift underground shelters and primitive conditions to endure, reminiscent of life in pre-industrial times.

Woman sits in the midst of rubble

A woman rests after clearing the rubble of a temple destroyed in attacks in Gorenka on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.

(Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)

“We could never imagine that we would have to make a fire to cook,” said Liubov Vedeneeva, a 69-year-old woman chopping wood in front of her apartment building in Lysychansk, a town not far from Severodonetsk.

Both lie on the banks of the strategic Seversky Donets River. Zelenskyi described them as “dead cities” after endless waves of Russian bombardments.

Control of the Donbass region is now Moscow’s main declared war aim, after failing to capture the capital Kyiv in the early days of the war and driving its troops out of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

In order to support Ukraine in its fight for the region, Great Britain has announced that it will supply Ukraine with multiple missile systems. Ukraine says this is key to taking out Russian artillery batteries that have been ravaging eastern cities and towns.

Russia has warned it would face unspecified retaliation for supplying Western longer-range weapons to Ukraine.

Another key Ukrainian goal is to end a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports — a struggle that has had global ramifications as grain exports have been choked off amid the fighting. In his speech, Zelenskyy said he had spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about mediation efforts to ease the blockade.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has cited credible reports that Russian forces are stealing stockpiles of grain for attempted sales. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Administration has repeatedly warned that the Russian invasion could lead to widespread hunger around the world in the coming months.

“We need a security corridor for ships” to enable grain exports, Zelenskyy said ahead of talks expected this week in the Turkish capital Ankara, which Moscow, but not Kyiv, will attend. “Turkey is now finding a format in which it can give us guarantees.”

Bulos reported from Dnipro and King from Washington. Marcus Yam contributed from Lysychansk, Ukraine. Russia eyes another key city amid fighting in east Ukraine

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