Ukraine says it still controls Sievierodonetsk factory housing hundreds of civilians

Smoke rises after a military strike on a complex of the Sievierodonetsk Azot chemical plant, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine on June 10, 2022.

Oleksandre Ratushniak | Reuters

Fierce fighting raged in Sievierodonetsk, but the region’s governor said Ukraine still controlled an industrial zone and a chemical plant in the east of the city where hundreds of civilians are sheltering from relentless Russian shelling.

A Russian-backed separatist group claimed on Saturday that 300 to 400 Ukrainian fighters were also trapped at the Azot plant.

Governor Serhiy Gaidai earlier acknowledged that Russian forces now controlled most of the small town in Luhansk province, and said the Russian shelling of the factory had sparked a large fire after an oil leak. It was unclear whether the fire was still burning on Sunday.

In neighboring Donetsk province to the west, Russian media reported that a huge cloud of smoke could be seen after an explosion in the town of Avdiivka, which is home to another chemical plant.

Sievierodonetsk has become the epicenter of the battle in eastern Ukraine for control of the industrialized Donbass region, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Weeks of fighting have pulverized parts of the city and have been among the bloodiest since Moscow began its invasion on February 24.

After being forced to scale back its initial campaign goals, including withdrawing troops that threatened Kyiv, Moscow turned to expanding control in the Donbass, where pro-Russian separatists hold a swath of territory since 2014.

Putin calls the invasion a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.

Ukraine said some 800 people were hiding in bomb shelters under the Azot plant, including employees and townspeople.

The eastern city of Sievierodonetsk suffered intense artillery and missile strikes from the Russian army.

Sopa Pictures | Light flare | Getty Images

“No one can say if there have been casualties and how many there have been in the past 24 hours in Sievierodonetsk, where intense fighting continues,” Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday.

“Yes, people are constantly in shelters, but the Russians are firing on residential areas for hours on end, using high-caliber artillery,” he said. “Everyone wants to evacuate now, probably, but so far there is no such possibility,”

In Lysychansk – Sievierodonetsk’s twin town across the Donets River – a woman was killed in Russian shelling while four houses and a shopping center were destroyed.

South and southwest of Sievierodonetsk, Russian forces were firing mortars and artillery around a number of settlements, according to a daily update from the Ukrainian General Staff.

But he said Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attempts to advance towards some communities.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.

Resilient Ukraine, needs support

Ill-equipped Ukraine appealed to the West for faster deliveries of heavy weapons, including missile systems, to turn the tide of the war.

Ukrainian forces have proven more resilient than expected, but the American Institute for the Study of War says that by using the last of their stockpiles of Soviet-era weapons and ammunition, they will need constant Western support.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk, said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling on Saturday and at least 10 injured.

Ukrainian tankers fire at frontline positions near the town of Soledar in the Donetsk region on June 10, 2022.

Anatolii Stepanov | AFP | Getty Images

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, some students returned to their destroyed school to hold a ball, dance and pose for photos in the ruins.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will visit Kyiv ahead of a Group of Seven summit in late June, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported, citing French and Ukrainian government sources.

None of the three have been to Kyiv since the Russian invasion. Macron has sought to maintain a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a stance that some Eastern European and Baltic countries see as undermining efforts to push him into negotiations.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union executive’s opinion on Ukraine’s application for EU membership would be ready in the coming week.

The 27 EU governments would have to agree to grant candidate status to Ukraine, after which there would be in-depth discussions on the reforms needed before the country could be considered for membership.

Volodymyr Trush, governor of the Ternopil region in western Ukraine, said on Saturday evening that there had been a Russian airstrike in the area of ​​the city of Chortkiv. Russian planes had not attacked the area since early April. The mayor of Chortkiv urged all residents to stay in shelters.

Russian authorities have started distributing Russian passports in two occupied Ukrainian cities – Kherson and Melitopol, Russian news agencies reported. It is not known how many were distributed.

Speaking at an Asian security conference in Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe urged all parties to continue peace talks.

“China is committed to promoting peace talks. China supports the talks between Russia and Ukraine. We also hope that the United States and NATO will hold talks with Russia to create the conditions for a quick ceasefire,” Wei said.

China has refused to call Russia’s action an invasion and says sanctions won’t solve the problem.

In response to a question, Wei said that China has never provided material support to Russia. However, the data shows that he has increased his purchases of Russian oil.

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