Ukraine: the Russians advance in the east, kyiv awaits its candidacy for the EU
The Russians continue to advance towards Lyssychansk, a strategic industrial city in eastern Ukraine that their artillery “completely destroyed”, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday, on the eve of a European summit where kyiv hopes to obtain the status EU candidate official.
“The Russians are approaching Lysytchansk, taking a foothold in neighboring towns and bombarding the city with their planes,” Sergei Gaïdaï, the governor of the Lugansk region, epicenter of the conflict in recent weeks, said on Telegram.
“The Russian army is (also) pounding Lysytchansk with its artillery and tanks,” he added. If the Ukrainians still control the city, the deluge of Russian fire there “destroyed everything”, he had declared a few hours earlier.
Just across the Donets River, impassable since bridges were destroyed there, “fighting continues in the streets” of Severodonetsk, he said.
The Ukrainian resistance pocket around Lysychansk and Severodonetsk is the only one still eluding Russian forces in the Luhansk region, where fierce artillery fighting has been going on for weeks.
Bombarded by the Russians for weeks, Severodonetsk is a key step in their plan to conquer all of Donbass, a basin in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
On the spot, “it’s hell”, says Governor Gaïdaï, but “our men are holding their positions”.
“The Russians are completely destroying the houses, right down to the foundations, with their artillery,” said city administration chief Oleksandr Stryuk on Wednesday, estimating that there are “7-8,000 inhabitants” left in this industrial city which had about 100,000 before the war.
On the Russian side, the authorities indicated that two drones had attacked and caused a fire on Wednesday in the Novochakhtinski oil refinery, located in Russian territory, a few kilometers from the border with the Lugansk region.
According to local authorities, the fire did not cause any casualties and was extinguished at the end of the morning. Without accusing the Ukrainian forces by name, Moscow denounced “terrorist acts coming from the western border” of this Russian region.
– “Russophobic hysteria” –
On the diplomatic level, in kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in addition to demanding more deliveries of heavy weapons to his Western allies, is working to ensure that the 27 countries of the European Union will grant the Ukraine’s official EU candidate status on Thursday at a scheduled summit in Luxembourg.
His optimism was reinforced by the remarks of French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU and who indicated that a “total consensus” between the Twenty-Seven had emerged on Tuesday on this issue during a meeting with his counterparts in Luxembourg.
On Tuesday, the tone rose between Moscow and an EU member, Lithuania, after this former Soviet republic imposed restrictions on the rail transit of goods hit by European sanctions against Russia in the direction of Kaliningrad, an enclave Russian on the Baltic.
“Hostile acts”, ruled Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, promising the imminent adoption of retaliatory measures which will have “serious negative consequences for the people of Lithuania”.
Germany “firmly” rejected these Russian threats to Lithuania.
Moscow, which commemorates the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on Wednesday, in turn accused Berlin of fueling “Russophobic hysteria”.
A Turkish merchant ship left the Ukrainian port of Mariupol (southeast) on Wednesday after discussions between Turkish and Russian delegations in Moscow over cereals blocked in Ukraine because of the Russian military offensive, announced the Turkish ministry of the Defense.
According to the latter, it is the “first foreign ship to leave the Ukrainian port of Mariupol”, taken by the Russians in May after a destructive siege of almost two months.
– “Shocking suffering” –
An AFP team saw Ukrainian soldiers digging a trench to serve as a firing post in a street in the center of Lysytchansk, and erecting barricades with barbed wire and branches.
“Many locals who remained are waiting for the Russian world,” says Jaconda, alluding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to restore Russian influence in regions bordering Russia.
In Severodonetsk, “fighting is raging around the industrial zone” where, according to local authorities, 568 people including 38 children – mainly employees and their families – are now taking refuge inside the Azot factory, according to the head of the Severodonetsk district, Roman Vlasenko.
They refuse to evacuate, according to Mr. Gaïdaï, who assured that they receive food, water and some basic medicines. According to him, “they will be able to evacuate if there is an agreement at the highest level” between the belligerents, with “a ceasefire and a clearly defined route”.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday denounced the “shocking level” of suffering that the indiscriminate violence of the war in Ukraine is causing to civilians, victims of “constant indiscriminate attacks”. This lack of respect for their protection “constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law”, she denounced.
On the media side, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has published an investigation carried out in Ukraine which, according to it, proves that the Ukrainian photo-reporter Maks Levin was “executed” with the soldier who accompanied him, after having been probably tortured by soldiers. Russians in March. This “report will give rise to our sixth complaint” before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, RSF told AFP.