Russia launches push on eastern Ukraine towns; several killed

  • As war enters fourth month, Russia concentrates on east
  • Russia tries to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin cities
  • EU’s von der Leyen says Moscow weaponising food

KYIV/SLOVYANSK, Ukraine, May 25 (Reuters) – Russian forces launched offensives on towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday with constant mortar bombardment destroying several houses and killing civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial Donbas region.

Russia is attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’ two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said Russian forces launched an offensive on Sievierodonetsk early on Wednesday and the town was under constant fire from mortars.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight wounded, most near bomb shelters, in Sievierodonetsk.

“At the moment, with the support of artillery, the Russian occupiers are attacking Sievierodonetsk,” Gaidai said.

Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.

Reuters could not immediately verify information about the fighting.

In a sign of Ukrainian success elsewhere, authorities in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, re-opened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under relentless bombardment.

The re-opening came after Ukraine pushed Russian forces largely out of artillery range of the northern city, as they did from the capital, Kyiv, in March.

WORLD WAR THREE?

Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.

More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble.

The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of using food as a weapon. read more

Billionaire financier George Soros, also speaking in Davos, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of World War Three.

“The best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible,” he said.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday lambasted President Vladimir Putin, casting the Kremlin chief as a doomed madman who was butchering the people of both Ukraine and Russia.

“This is a stupid war which your Putin started,” Navalny told an appeals court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony. “This war was built on lies.”

Underlining the global tensions unleashed by the war, major U.S. ally Japan scrambled jets on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese warplanes neared its airspace as U.S. President Joe Biden visited Tokyo. read more

Meanwhile, in a decision that could push Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to pay U.S. bondholders.

Russia had been allowed to keep paying interest and principal and avert default on its government debt.

Russian lawmakers gave the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that have left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, a government online portal showed. [nL5N2XG5UG}

On Monday, Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) became the latest Western brand to announce it was pulling out of Russia, following a similar decision by McDonald’s. The hamburger chain’s trademark “Golden Arches” were lowered near Moscow on Monday.

DRAWN OUT CONFLICT

Senior Russian officials suggested in comments on Tuesday the war, which Russia calls a “special operation”, may be drawn-out.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Russia would fight as long as necessary to eradicate “Nazism” in Ukraine, a justification for the war that the West calls baseless.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately advancing slowly to avoid civilian casualties.

Zelenskiy dismissed such statements as “absolutely unreal”.

In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were living underground in trains and stations when the authorities asked them to make way on Tuesday.

“Everyone is crazily scared, because there is still shelling,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who had lived in a metro train for most of the war.

The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor now operating outside the city, said the dead were lying in the rubble.

About 200 decomposing bodies were buried in debris in a basement of one high-rise building, he said. Residents had refused to collect them and Russian authorities had abandoned the site.

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Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidiy in Kharkiv and Reuters journalists in Mariupol and Slovyansk; Writing by Costas Pitas and Michael Perry; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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