KRAMatorsk (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the east of the country for the first time since Russia’s invasion on Sunday, as Russian forces tighten their grip on major cities in the Donbass region.
In photos posted online by the Ukrainian Presidency, we can see President Zelensky, dressed in a flak jacket and surrounded by armed soldiers, visiting the ruins of destroyed buildings in Kharkiv (northeast), the second largest city in the country, and its surrounding areas.
“2,229 houses have been destroyed in Kharkiv and the region. We will restore and rebuild them and bring them back to life. In Kharkiv and all other towns and villages brought by evil,” he said on Telegram.
“In this war, the occupiers are trying to achieve any result. But they must have understood for a long time that we will defend our land to the end. They have no chance. We will fight and we will win,” al-Sayed said. Zelensky again.
In his daily video message, he later announced the dismissal of the head of the intelligence service of the Kharkiv region “because he had not worked in the defense of the city since the first days of this war, but did not think about it” himself.
“La Russie a déjà perdu, non seulement la bataille de Kharkiv, non seulement la bataille pour Kiev et le nord du pays. Mais aussi son propre avenir et tous ses liens culturels avec le monde libre. Ils ont tous, at brûlé” .
More than three months after the February 24 invasion by Moscow, the conflict appears to be taking hold, despite attempts at mediation.
On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz asked Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a phone call, to start “serious direct negotiations” with his Ukrainian counterpart. Putin responded that Russia remains “open to resuming dialogue” with Kyiv – which is currently at an impasse.
Meanwhile, the Russian troops, having withdrawn from the Kharkiv region and redeployed southward, advanced towards the main cities of Severodonetsk, relentlessly bombarding, and Lyschansk, its twin city, in the Donbass.
Located on both sides of the Siversky Donets, it is threatened by encirclement by Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists, who seek to establish complete control of the Donbass mining basin.
The situation in Lysekhansk “greatly worsened”, admitted on Sunday to the Telegram Serguiï Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region, which together with the Donetsk region makes up the Donbass. “A Russian shell fell on an apartment building, and a girl died instantly, and four people were taken to hospital,” he added.
In Severodonetsk, “the enemy carried out offensive operations”, according to the staff of the Ukrainian army. According to Governor Gaïdaï, the offensive continues in the city with street fighting.
“All basic infrastructure has already been destroyed. 90% of the houses are destroyed. More than two-thirds of the houses in the city are completely destroyed,” President Zelensky said, referring to the “continuous bombing.”
“We are doing our best to contain this attack,” he added, noting that “there has never been a day when we haven’t tried to find more weapons and more modern weapons to protect our country and our people.”
“The next week is going to be very difficult,” Governor Gaidi admitted on Saturday.
The leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, claimed on Saturday evening on Telegram that “Severodonetsk is under our complete control (…) the city has been liberated.”
The mayor of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, warned of the deteriorating health situation in this city of 100,000 inhabitants before the war. He wrote on Telegram that the “continuous bombing” is greatly complicating the supply – especially drinking water – to the city, which has been without electricity for more than two weeks.
“Where can I run?”
The Russian Defense Ministry, in a statement issued on Sunday morning, said that the Russian army had destroyed a “large arsenal of the Ukrainian Armed Forces with long-range, high-precision missiles” in the (southeast) Dnipropetrovsk region.
These missiles have also in the past 24 hours targeted a Ukrainian air defense system near Mykolaivka in the Donetsk region, a radar station in the Kharkiv region, and five ammunition depots including near Severodonetsk, according to the same press release.
The pro-Russian separatist authorities in the Donetsk region announced the killing of a woman and the wounding of three civilians in the Ukrainian shelling of the city of Donetsk.
In Solidar, near the front line, residents live in fear and surrender. “Where can I run? They shoot everywhere, wherever you go,” Valentina Pavlenko, 69, told AFP.
A little further west, the Russian Ministry of Defense on Saturday confirmed the capture of the Lyman locality, which opens the way to the main cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, in the Donbass.
Commander of the Armed Forces of the Central Military District of Russia, General Alexander Lapin, on Sunday praised the “courage and heroism” of the Russian soldiers who participated in the capture of Lyman.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian military noted that the regrouping of Russian forces was “getting stronger” in this sector.
While Ukraine, a major agricultural power, is no longer able to export its grain due to the closure of its ports, Vladimir Putin, during his conversation with his French and German counterparts, stressed that his country is “ready” to help export “without hindrances”. Grain from Ukraine.
“Russia is ready to help find options for the unimpeded export of grain, including Ukrainian grain, from the Black Sea ports,” the Kremlin statement stated.
For Mr. Putin, the difficulties with food delivery were caused by the “wrong economic and financial policy of Western countries, as well as by the sanctions against Russia” that these countries imposed.
In Brussels, on the eve of the European Union summit, representatives of the 27 countries on Sunday considered a new proposal that would temporarily exempt a major pipeline to Hungary from the gradual EU embargo on Russian oil, in an attempt to lift the embargo on their countries. Sixth sanctions package against Moscow.
These new sanctions are currently blocked by Hungary, a landlocked country that does not have access to the sea and relies on oil sent from Russia via the Druzhba pipeline, which supplies it for 65% of its consumption.