Russia strikes eastern cities in attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces

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  • Russian forces advance east, changing momentum
  • Capturing Lyman would set the stage for the next phase of the offensive
  • Sievierodonetsk under attack

KYIV, May 28 (Reuters) – Russian forces stepped up their assault on the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday after claims they had captured the nearby Lyman rail hub, as Kyiv stepped up calls for longer-range weaponry of the West to help him. response in the Donbass region.

The slow and solid Russian gains in recent days point to a subtle shift in dynamics in the war, which is now in its fourth month. The invading forces appear poised to seize the entire Lugansk region of the Donbass, one of the more modest war targets the Kremlin set after abandoning its assault on Kyiv in the face of the Ukrainian resistance.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its troops and allied separatist forces now fully control Lyman, the site of a railway junction west of the Siverskyi Donets River in the Donetsk region neighboring Lugansk.

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However, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the battle for Lyman continues, the ZN.ua website reported.

Sievierodonetsk, about 60 km (40 miles) from Lyman on the eastern bank of the river and the largest city in the Donbass still held by Ukraine, has come under heavy Russian assault.

“Sievierodonetsk is constantly under enemy fire,” Ukrainian police said on social media on Saturday.

Russian artillery was also shelling the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must use to close a pincer movement and encircle the Ukrainian forces.

“There was significant destruction in Lysychansk,” police said.

The governor of Luhansk, which along with Donetsk includes Donbass, said on Friday that Russian troops had already entered Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from the city to avoid capture, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said. It was unclear whether they had started to withdraw on Saturday.

Ukrainian presidential adviser and negotiator for the peace talks Mykhailo Podolyak reiterated a call on Saturday for the delivery of long-range American-made multiple rocket launchers. U.S. officials told Reuters such systems are being actively considered, with a decision possible in the coming days.

“It’s hard to fight when you’re attacked from 70 km away and you have nothing to retaliate with. Ukraine can bring Russia back behind the Iron Curtain, but we need effective weapons for that,” tweeted Podolyak.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed hope in a late-night video address that allies would provide the necessary weapons and added that he expected “good news next week”.

DESTROYED BUILDINGS

Ukraine’s military said on Saturday its troops had repelled eight assaults in Donetsk and Lugansk in the past 24 hours.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence report that if Russia succeeded in gaining control of these areas, the Kremlin would likely view it as a “substantial political achievement”, which it could use to justify its invasion to of the Russian people.

About 90% of buildings in Sievierodonetsk were damaged, Governor Gaidai said, with 14 high-rise buildings destroyed in the latest bombardment. Several dozen medical staff were staying in Sievierodonetsk, but they were struggling to get to hospitals because of the shelling, he said.

Reuters could not independently verify the information.

Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said that if Russian forces began direct assaults on built-up areas in Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to gain ground in the city it -same.

“Russian forces performed poorly in built-up urban terrain operations throughout the war,” they said.

Zelenskiy said the military situation in the Donbass region was very complicated, adding that defenses were holding out in a number of places, including Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

“It’s indescribably tough out there. And I’m grateful to everyone who stood up to that onslaught,” he said in his late-night video address.

In a TV interview, Zelenskiy said he believed Russia would agree to talks if Ukraine could regain all the territory it had lost since the invasion began on February 24.

Yet Zelenskiy has ruled out using force to win back all the land Ukraine has lost to Russia since 2014, including Crimea, which Moscow annexed that year.

“I don’t believe that we can restore all of our territory by military means. If we decide to go down this path, we will lose hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and rid it of nationalists who threaten Russian speakers. Kyiv and Western countries say Russia’s claims are a false pretext for war.

Thousands of people, many of them civilians, have been killed and several million have fled their homes, either to safer parts of Ukraine or to other countries.

Ukraine’s general staff said on Saturday that several Russian strikes hit communities and infrastructure near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. A solar power plant in the area was badly damaged after an apparent missile strike, a Reuters photographer said.

GUN AND CEREAL

Pushing diplomatic efforts to find a solution to a conflict that has multiple ramifications beyond Ukraine’s borders, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday during a a joint phone call.

They urged him to lift the Russian blockade of the port of Odessa to allow Ukrainian grain exports, France said. The Kremlin said Putin told them Moscow was willing to discuss ways to allow Ukraine to resume grain shipments from Black Sea ports. Read more

Ukraine is a major grain exporter and the blocking of its exports threatens to lead to food shortages in a number of countries, including in Africa.

Meanwhile, the supply of weapons to Kyiv by its allies continued. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he had started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark.

Yet Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna said NATO had proven unable to mount a united response to the Russian invasion.

“We must speak clearly about the catastrophic consequences for the future of all of Europe if Ukraine is defeated,” she said in a Facebook post.

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Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters reporters in Popasna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Phil Stewart in Washington; Written by Phil Stewart and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Frances Kerry, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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