- Zelenskiy calls on the West to supply heavy weapons
- EU leaders start Ukraine’s membership process
- The battle for Donba’s twin cities reaches a critical stage
KYIV, June 23 (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region and urged Ukraine’s allies to speed up the shipment of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.
The struggle for the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine “enters a kind of frightening climax”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Zelenskiy. Russia seeks to conquer both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbas region – the nation’s industrial heartland.
On the diplomatic front, European leaders on Thursday will formally put Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels. While primarily symbolic, the movement will help lift morale after four months of bloody conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.
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“We must liberate our country and achieve victory, but faster, much faster,” Zelenskiy said in a video speech released early Thursday, reiterating Ukrainian demands for bigger and faster weapons.
“There were massive air and artillery attacks in the Donbas. The occupiers’ goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step by step,” he said.
“That is why we are repeatedly emphasizing the acceleration of arms supplies to Ukraine. What is urgently needed is parity on the battlefield to stop this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders.”
FIGHT FOR DOUBLE CITY
The fierce war of attrition in the Donbas is at its most critical in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
Ukrainian forces defended Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday, but added that Russia had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.
Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, where Ukraine and Russia are arguing over who controls the bombed-out city.
Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded and captured. But Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that “Russian forces do not have full control.”
In Lysychansk, Gaidai said it was “very dangerous in the city” as it was all within range of Russian fire.
“To avoid encirclement, our command was able to order the troops to retreat to new positions. There may be a regrouping after last night,” he added.
The Tass news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying that Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road connecting the city with the city of Sieviersk was taken.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.
According to the British Ministry of Defense, Russian forces have most likely moved more than 5 km (3.11 miles) towards the southern approaches of Lysychansk since 19 June.
“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, presumably to avoid being surrounded,” it said on Twitter.
“Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure with this insidious advance … but its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to conquer the western Donetsk Oblast remain halted,” the ministry added.
Arestovych said Russian forces in both cities were conscripts with varying levels of training after Ukraine inflicted heavy losses on Russian forces. Reuters could not confirm his comments about Russian losses.
“It’s like two boxers fighting each other in the 18th round of a fight and barely being able to move things forward. This operation started on April 14 and has been going on for almost 80 days,” he said. he in an online video post.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special operation” to ensure Russian security and denazify Ukraine. Ukraine and the West call this an unfounded pretext for an election war that has raised fears of a broader conflict in Europe.
Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet state, and Western clubs such as the European Union (EU) and NATO’s military alliance.
Zelenskiy said on Wednesday he had spoken to 11 EU leaders about Ukraine’s candidacy and would make more calls on Thursday.
Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the EU. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture acknowledging Ukraine’s sacrifice.
The war in Ukraine has had a massive impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pressuring the EU to reduce its heavy dependence on Russian energy and forcing Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
The EU will temporarily switch back to coal to cope with the dwindling Russian gas flows without derailing long-term climate goals, an EU official said on Wednesday.
Leaders of the group of seven and NATO will try to increase the pressure on Russia at meetings next week, US administration officials said. Read more
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Reporting from Reuters agencies; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing Himani Sarkar
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