- The city of Siverodonetsk focuses on the fighting for eastern Ukraine
- Hundreds are trapped at the Azot chemical plant in Sivirodonetsk
- NATO defense ministers to discuss military aid to Ukraine
KYIV, June 15 (Reuters) – Russia told Ukrainian forces on Wednesday morning that it was ambushing a chemical plant in the city of Siverodonetsk to lay down its weapons in its favor in the war to control eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has called for an increase in Western heavy weapons after Russia provided most of its firepower to the eastern Donbass region, which is expected to feature prominently at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday.
Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped inside the Azot chemical plant, where its forces have for weeks turned most of Siverodonetsk into ruins in the face of Russian bombings and attacks.
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Mikhail Mijintsev, head of Russia’s National Security Management Center, told Interfax that since 8 a.m. Moscow time (0500 GMT), militants must “stop their ignorant resistance and lay down their arms.”
Mijintsev said civilians would be evacuated via a humanitarian corridor.
The Azot bombing echoes the previous siege of the Azovstal Steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of militants and civilians sought refuge from Russian shelling. Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken into Russian custody.
Serhiy Gaidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, one of the two eastern provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies, said the shelling of Azot was so severe that “people could not bear it in shelters and their psychological state was on edge.”
Referring to the twin cities on the opposite bank of the Shivarsky Donets River, he said, “Our forces have maintained their position against attacks from all three sides, defending Siverodonetsk and preventing the enemy from advancing on the Licensing.”
The Russian attack on Luhansk’s Sivrodonetsk – a city of more than 100,000 people before the war – is now the focal point of what is now known as the Battle of Donbass.
Kiev claims that 100-200 of its soldiers are killed and hundreds wounded every day.
Ukraine has been trying to evacuate civilians since Russian forces destroyed the last bridge connecting Ukraine – controlled Lychisansk and Siverodonetsk.
Russian forces shelled Lyczynsk, located in the highlands on the west bank of the Shivarsky Donets River.
The ground has changed hands several times over the past few weeks, and Ukrainian officials have given little indication that they are retreating.
But with all the bridges leading from Sivirodonetsk now destroyed, there is a danger that Ukrainian forces will be surrounded.
“We must keep strong … the enemy suffers more losses, () less strength must continue its occupation,” Zhelensky said in a speech late Tuesday.
‘Could not exit’
Russia has not given regular figures of its own losses, but Western nations say they are too large to force President Vladimir Putin to take full control of the two provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, known as the Donbass.
The speed in Siverodonetsk has changed several times over the past few weeks – Russia concentrating its massive artillery fire on urban districts and destroying resistance, then sending ground forces vulnerable to counter-attacks.
Elsewhere in Donbass, Ukraine says Russia is planning an attack on Sloviansk from the north and a front line near Baghmood in the south.
In Donetsk province, important infrastructure, including homes, schools, hospitals and markets, was attacked last week, United Nations spokesman Stephen Dujarric told reporters in New York.
“It has made the lives of people facing severe water shortages almost unbearable, and sometimes they have not been able to leave their homes for several days due to fighting,” Dujarric said.
In the south, the Ukrainian military said it had carried out three airstrikes against troops, fuel depots and military equipment in the Gershon region.
Ukrainian officials have demanded that the United States and its allies send more and more artillery and tanks, drones and other heavy weapons.
Western nations have pledged NATO standard weapons – including advanced US rockets. But it will take time to stabilize them, and Ukraine will need constant Western support to switch to new materials and weapons systems as their stockpile of Soviet-era weapons and ammunition dwindles.
The meeting on Wednesday, chaired by NATO Secretary of Defense, is being chaired by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. This is the third time a group of nearly 50 countries has met to discuss and coordinate aid to Ukraine.
Washington has provided about $ 4.6 billion in defense assistance since Russia’s invasion of February 24, including long-range rocket systems, drones and advanced artillery.
But Zelenskiy said Ukraine did not have enough anti-missile systems to protect its cities, adding that “there can be no justification for the delay in delivering them.”
Energy and commodity prices have risen due to global shortages of oil and grain, while Western sanctions have hit Russia hard. Putin’s address to the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on Friday will be closely watched. read more
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Reuters Bureau report; Written by Rami Job and Stephen Coates; Editing by Grand McCauley & Simon Cameron-Moore
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