LYSYCHANSK: Ukraine has pledged to do “everything” to defend Donbass, where an intensification of the Russian offensive is prompting Kiev’s forces to consider a strategic retreat from some key areas to avoid encirclement.
Russia is waging an all-out war over the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which make up the Donbass — the country’s industrial heartland — where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Moscow of committing “genocide.”
In his daily address to Ukrainians, Zelenskyy said the Russians had “maximum artillery, maximum reserves concentrated in Donbass.”
“There are missile attacks and there are plane attacks – everything,” he said.
“We are protecting our country as our current defense resources allow,” he added. “We’re doing everything we can to increase it.”
Pro-Russian separatists said Friday (May 27) they had taken the town of Lyman between Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk, on the road leading to key cities still under Kyiv’s control.
Russian forces are also approaching Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Lugansk Province, with conflicting reports on the extent of their advance.
Regional governor Sergiy Gaiday insisted Russian forces would not be able to capture the entire region in two to three days – but said Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from some areas to avoid encirclement.
“Most likely they will not seize (Lugansk) because there is enough strength and means to hold the defense,” he said on Telegram.
“Perhaps there will even be an order to withdraw our troops to avoid encirclement.”
A Lugansk police official, quoted by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti, said Severodonetsk was “now surrounded” and Ukrainian troops could not leave the city.
This was denied by senior city official Oleksandr Stryuk, although he conceded that the situation with the incessant bombing was “very difficult”.
“People are willing to risk everything to get food and water,” said the head of the main distribution center for aid in Lysychansk, Oleksandr Kozyr.
“They are so mentally depressed that they are no longer afraid. They only care about finding food.”
Three months after Russia launched its February 24 invasion that killed thousands on both sides and forced 6.6 million people out of the country, Moscow has seized control of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the port cities of Kherson and Mariupol.
“Russian forces have made steady, incremental progress in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine over the past few days, although overall Ukrainian defenses remain effective,” the US-based Institute for the Study of War said.
To further help Ukraine resist the invasion, Washington was preparing to deploy advanced long-range missile systems, according to US media reports.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm plans to supply Ukraine with the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), a highly mobile system capable of firing up to 300 km that Kyiv says it desperately needs.
“We are still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield,” he said.
Referring to the missile systems, Mykhaylo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, said on Twitter that some of the country’s partners “are avoiding giving the necessary weapons for fear of escalation. escalation, really?”.
In a historic move against Russia’s clerical authorities, the Moscow branch of the Kyiv Orthodox Church said on Friday it was cutting ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, declaring “full independence”.
A church council focused on Russia’s “aggression” condemned the pro-war stance of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Not only did he (Kirill) fail to condemn Russia’s military aggression, but he also failed to find words for the suffering Ukrainian people,” church spokesman Archbishop Kliment told AFP.
Ukraine has been under Moscow’s spiritual leadership since at least the 17th century, but part of its Orthodox Church broke with Moscow in 2019 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for Donbass separatists.
Building on international pressure on Russia, Zelenskyy will address an emergency summit on Monday with EU leaders as they try to agree an embargo on Russian oil, which Hungary is holding up to Prime Minister Viktor Orban close ties exist Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Instead of continuing to trade with (Russia), we must act until they end their policy of aggression,” Zelenskyi told a think tank in Indonesia.
But in Moscow, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the country expects to receive a trillion rubles ($15 billion) in additional oil and gas revenues this year, a windfall from the sharp rise in oil prices partly fueled by its invasion of caused by Ukraine.
While his navy is blockading Ukrainian ports, Putin has also denied allegations that he is weaponizing the food shortage. Russia and Ukraine supply about 30 percent of the wheat traded on world markets.
Russia has tightened its own exports and Ukraine has stockpiled huge amounts, driving up prices and reducing availability for importers around the world.
In a phone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Friday, Putin blamed “among other things, anti-Russian sanctions by the United States and the European Union,” according to the Kremlin.
He also accused Kyiv of “sabotaging” negotiations and urged Ukraine to demine ports “as soon as possible” to allow passage of grain ships, the Kremlin said.
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