KRAMODORSK, Ukraine (AB) – Moscow-backed separatists on Friday claimed to have seized a railway station in the industrial Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, urging Ukrainian authorities to stop the attack with sophisticated Western weapons.
The advance of Russian forces raised fears that cities in the region would face the same horrors that had befallen the people of the port city of Mariupol in the weeks leading up to its fall.
Friday’s fights focused on two major cities: Siverodonetsk and nearby Lyczynsk. These are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up Donbass, and pro-Russian separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years. Authorities say 1,500 people have already died in Siverodonetsk since the war began three months ago. Russian-backed rebels also claimed to have captured the Lyman railway center.
Luhansk Governor warned that Ukrainian troops would have to retreat from Siverodonetsk to avoid being surrounded. But he predicted a final Ukrainian victory. “Analysts predict that the Russians will not be able to capture the Luhansk region in the coming days,” Sergei Haidai wrote in a telegram on Friday. “We have enough powers and means to protect ourselves.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Jelsky also attacked the opposition. In his nightly video speech on Friday, he said: “If the invaders think Lyman or Siverodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian.
For now, Siverodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Strike told the Associated Press that “the city is being systematically demolished – 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”
Strike described the conditions in Siverodonetsk as reminiscent of the war for Mariupol. Located in Donetsk, the other province of Donbas. Now in ruins, the port city was hit by a barrage of Russian forces during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week. When Russia claimed to have captured. More than 20,000 civilians Feared dead.
Prior to the war, Zhivrodonetsk had a population of about 100,000. Strike said there were about 12,000 to 13,000 people in the city, hiding in shelters and mostly isolated from other parts of Ukraine. At least 1,500 people died there on the 93rd day of the war. The mayor said the number would include those killed in fires caused by shelling or Russian missile strikes, as well as those with mutilated wounds, untreated diseases, drug shortages or those trapped in the rubble.
In the northeastern quarter of the city, Russian spy and sabotage groups attempted to seize the Mir Hotel and its environs, Strike said.
The Institute for the Study of War study by the Washington think tank says that Russia’s strategy for the Donbass can be found in Mariupol, where the Moscow government is coordinating its control through measures including broadcast programming and modification of school curricula.
General Philip Breitlow, the former head of the U.S. European Command for NATO, told a Washington – based group mounted by the Middle East agency on Friday that Russia “once again seems to have adjusted its intentions and now seems to be trying with apprehension.
However, that aggression may backfire by drastically reducing Russia’s arsenal. Echoing the British Defense Ministry’s assessment, military analyst Oleh Zhtanov said Russia was deploying 50-year-old T-62 tanks, adding that “the world’s second largest military has run out of modernized equipment.”
Russia-backed rebels said on Friday they had captured two more Ukrainian-controlled cities north of Donetsk’s major railway station, Lyman. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksi Arrestovich acknowledged the loss Thursday night, although a spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that its troops had completely expelled Russian troops.
As Ukraine’s hopes of blocking Russian progress faded, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba appealed to the West for heavy weapons, saying it was an area of clear benefit to Russia.
“Without artillery, we would not be able to push them back without many missile rocket systems,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Defense did not confirm CNN report The Biden administration is preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, perhaps next week. “We are certainly aware and aware of what the Ukrainians, known as the multi-missile rocket system, are listening to privately and publicly. And I will not make decisions that have not yet been made,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Volunteers hoped to evacuate 100 people from a small town, south of Siverodonetsk. It was a difficult task: many of those evacuated from Buckmutt were elderly or infirm and had to be carried on soft stretchers and wheelchairs from apartment buildings.
Minibuses and vans zipped through the city, taking dozens to the first leg of a long journey west.
Mark Buckbert, an American volunteer who works with the British charity RefugEase, said, “Buckmud is currently a high-risk area. We are trying to evacuate as many people as possible.”
In the north, neighboring Belarus – used by Russia as a platform before the invasion – announced on Friday that it was sending troops towards the Ukrainian border.
Some European leaders have sought to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin on easing the global food crisis. Ukraine’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products has worsened.
Moscow has sought to shift the blame for the food crisis to the West, calling on its leaders to lift existing sanctions.
Putin told Austrian President Carl Nehemiah on Friday that Ukraine should remove the Black Sea mines and allow safe shipping. Russia and Ukraine traded for mines near Ukrainian ports.
Nehmar’s office said the two leaders had discussed the transfer of prisoners and that Putin had indicated that efforts to transfer one prisoner would be “intensified”.
Karmanov reported from LV in Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Andrew Hearing in New York and Andhra journalists from around the world.
The story has been edited to correct the fact that 1,500 people have died in Siverodonetsk alone, not across the Donbass region.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine