Russians advance on the front line in eastern Ukraine

JOHN LESTER and DAVID CATON

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military tightened control of territory in eastern Ukraine Thursday, capturing two villages and vying for control of a key highway, seeking to cut supply lines and encircle some forward Ukrainian forces, British and Ukrainian military forces. said.

The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces withdrew from some areas near the city of Lysichansk to avoid encirclement as the Russians sent reinforcements and concentrated their firepower in the area. The city is located in the Lugansk region, the main battlefield in the war of Russian President Vladimir Putin against Ukraine.

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian troops have taken control of the villages of Loskutovka and Rai-Aleksandrovka and are trying to seize Syrotin, a village outside the region’s urban administrative center of Severodonetsk.

Lugansk Oblast Governor Sergei Gaidai told The Associated Press that the Russians were “burning everything” in their offensive to encircle Ukrainian fighters.

“The Russians are moving forward, not trying to spare either ammunition or soldiers, and they are running out of both,” Haidai said. “They have an advantage in heavy artillery and troop numbers.”

“Part of the Lugansk region still remains under the control of Ukraine, challenging the Russians and causing their fury and desire to burn it to the ground,” he added.

For weeks, Russian troops have shelled Severodonetsk with artillery and air raids and fought the Ukrainian army house by house. Ukrainian forces still took refuge with about 500 civilians at the Azot chemical plant, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

Gaidai said that Ukrainian soldiers repelled the capture of the city from the overgrown underground facilities of the plant, but noted that “the shelling has intensified, and even concrete shelters cannot withstand the shelling.” The Russians used their entire arsenal – heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft, ”he said.

Gaidai said that Lisichansk, which is located on the steep bank of the river opposite Severodonetsk. also faced relentless Russian artillery fire. At least one civilian died and three were injured in 24 hours, the governor said, as the Russians concentrated more than 100 multiple rocket launchers to “bring down entire neighborhoods.”

“The Russian army is ‘liberating’ Severodonetsk from life and jobs,” he said, sarcastically referring to Russia’s stated goal of “liberating” all of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas.

The UK Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence assessment Thursday that Russian troops had likely advanced more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) towards the southern approaches to Lysichansk since Sunday.

“Some Ukrainian units withdrew, probably to avoid encirclement,” the report says. “The improvement in Russia’s performance in this sector is likely the result of the unit’s recent reinforcement and strong concentration of fire.”

The Ukrainian military said the Russians were also moving to outrun the hills overlooking the highway linking Lysichansk with Bakhmut to the southwest in an attempt to cut Ukrainian supply lines.

Gaidai said that the Bakhmut-Lysichansk highway is out of use due to heavy Russian shelling, and Ukrainian forces are receiving supplies via an alternative route.

After failing to capture Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, in the early stages of the February 24 invasion, Russian forces turned their attention to the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Currently, the Russian military controls about 95% of the Luhansk region and about half of the neighboring Donetsk region, two territories that make up the Donbass.

Asked about the prospects for a political settlement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday: “This is possible after Ukraine fulfills all of Russia’s demands.” He added: “Ukraine knows very well what they are.”

The Kremlin has previously demanded that Ukraine recognize Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and recognize the independence of the separatist-held territories of Donbas.

Moscow also said that Ukraine must acknowledge the situation on the ground, clearly alluding to Russia’s conquest of land in southern Ukraine, where Russian troops have seized Kherson region, part of Zaporozhye region and the Donetsk port city of Mariupol. .

Kyiv has urged its Western allies to supply more heavy weapons to counter Russia’s superior firepower. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on Thursday announced the arrival of US-supplied multiple launch rocket systems and enthusiastically thanked his American counterpart “for these powerful weapons!”

“Summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them,” Reznikov wrote on Twitter.

Mykola Sungurovsky of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank, said the HIMAR missile launchers would help the Ukrainian military resist the Russian onslaught and possibly launch a counteroffensive in the south.

He noted that HIMARS has greater range, accuracy and rate of fire than similar Soviet-designed systems used by Russia and Ukraine during the four-month war.

“The main forces of Russia are now concentrated in the Donbass, and it cannot redeploy them while fierce fighting is going on,” Sunkhurovsky said.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

A Ukrainian politician and TV host says an online fundraiser to help Ukraine acquire three offensive drones raised $10.4 million in 24 hours.

Serhiy Prytula noted “surprising” support among Ukrainians after his charitable foundation a day earlier launched an appeal for $15 million to buy Bayraktar drones, similar to those Ukrainian forces have already used to defend against Russian occupiers.

He tweeted: “$4.6 million left. The People’s Bayraktar project is already a nationwide crowdfunding. Let’s make it international!”

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The meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels appeared to be aimed at making Ukraine a candidate for membership in the 27-country bloc. However, the country’s actual entry into the EU is likely to take years, both because of the war and the reforms the Ukrainian government is expected to make to bring it up to European standards.

It is unlikely that accession talks could start before next year, and EU membership will not provide any security guarantees, unlike NATO membership. Ukraine has also sought to join a Western military alliance, which Putin has cited as a rationale for invading a neighboring country.

Several EU diplomats, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of a summit of EU leaders starting Thursday, said Ukraine would receive the unanimous approval it needs to become a candidate and begin negotiations on future membership.

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British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that her country has offered its experience to protect Ukrainian ports and safe passage of ships for the export of Ukrainian grain.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. The Russian invasion and blockade of Ukrainian ports stopped much of this flow and left millions of tons of grain in silos, jeopardizing food supplies to many developing countries, especially Africa.

“There is an urgent need to take action over the next month ahead of the new harvest, and we are determined to work with our allies to achieve this,” Truss said at a press conference with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu during a visit to Ankara. discuss ways to end the blockade.

Turkey wants to bring the UN, Russia and Ukraine together to organize a UN plan that will allow the safe shipment of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports. Cavusoglu said the possible deal could create a “safe zone” outside Ukraine’s territorial waters.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that Russia had destroyed more than 2,000 schools and other educational institutions during the war.

In a video message to students and faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Zelensky said that in areas where Russian troops were advancing rapidly, “forces have been shooting at people in the streets, they are torturing people, raping minors – boys and girls.”

Zelenskiy also expressed disappointment that Israel has not joined Western sanctions against Russia and provided Ukraine with military assistance to bolster its forces in the war.

Israel relies on good ties with Russia to coordinate security in Syria, where Russia has troops and where Israel frequently strikes enemy targets. Humanitarian aid sent to Ukraine.

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Yuri Karmanov participated in this report from Lvov. Samuel Petrekin in Brussels, Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv and Susan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at

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