2022 – Russians approach the center of a major city in Donbass, Ukraine. from Reuters


© Reuters. A police officer inspects an area during the evacuation of local residents between shelling, amid the Russian attack on Ukraine, in the village of Novomykhailivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 29, 2022. Photo taken May 29, 2022. REUTERS / Anna Kudriavtseva


By Pavel Pollyuk and Alexander Kozukhar

Kyiv/Lviv (Reuters) – Russian forces are slowly advancing towards the city center in Severodonetsk, a regional governor said on Tuesday, telling a handful of Ukrainian resistance forces that have hampered Russia’s broader offensive in the eastern Donbass region.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, told Ukrainian state television that about 15,000 civilians remain in Serodonetsk as most of the city’s 120,000 residents have fled brutal Russian artillery bombardment.

Gadai prepared for the worst, saying that the Ukrainian forces defending Severodonetsk could retreat across the Seversky Donetsk River to the city of Lyschansk to escape the siege.

As the Russian offensive continues in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, the European Union agreed on Monday to ban most imports of Russian oil, in a move aimed at affecting the Kremlin’s wartime finances.

In the heaviest EU sanctions against Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine three months ago, European Council President Charles Michel said the embargo agreed at an EU summit in Brussels on Monday would immediately cover more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia and “a huge source of funding for his war machine.” .

European Union leaders said they had agreed to cut 90% of oil imports from Russia by the end of this year, with the exception of Hungary – a landlocked country that relies heavily on Russian crude – and others concerned about the economic effects of the embargo.

Michel added that they also agreed to cut Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT system and ban three other Russian state radio stations.

The announcement came as Russian forces pushed into key targets in the Donbass, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying the situation remained “extremely difficult”.

Russia attempted to seize the entire Donbass, consisting of Luhansk and Donetsk, which Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

The capture of the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk would give Moscow effective control of Luhansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of war.

Leonid Bashnik, the leader of the Moscow-backed Lugansk People’s Republic, told TASS that a third of the Severodonetsk region was “already under our control”, but that progress was slower than expected.

TASS reported that the advance of the Russian forces was complicated by the presence of several large chemical plants in the Severodonetsk region.

In the south, Kyiv said its forces had returned Russian forces to defensive positions in the villages of Andreyevka, Lozov and Belhorka on the southern bank of the Inholets River, which forms the border with Kherson province, where Moscow is trying to tighten control.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the allegations by either side.

Ukraine urged the West to send more long-range weapons, but US President Joe Biden said Washington would not send missile systems to Ukraine that could reach Russia, a decision that Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev called “rational”.

Zelensky said that Russian forces fired again on Monday on the northeastern city of Kharkiv and the border region of Sumy, which was bombed by Russia.

Russian bombing reduced much of Sievierodonetsk to ruins, but Ukrainian defenses slowed down the broader Russian campaign in the Donbass region.

Temporary pipeline exception

Efforts to agree to an oil embargo by the European Union have been hampered by Hungary’s refusal to agree to a ban on Russian imports it receives through the massive Soviet-era “friendship” pipeline that runs through Ukraine.

Michel said at a press conference that there is a “temporary exception for the entry of oil into the European Union through the pipeline”, but added: “We want to address the European Council as soon as possible to address this temporary exception.” And making sure we can target all of the Russian oil.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Russia is ready to allow unimpeded grain exports from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey, the Kremlin said.

Western leaders criticized Russia for closing Ukrainian ports and raising prices for grain and other goods. The United Nations said the global food crisis was worsening and tried to negotiate a deal to lift a ban on Ukraine’s grain exports.

“It was emphasized that the safety of navigation in the Black and Azov seas would be ensured and the threat of mines in their waters would be eliminated,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s invitation to Erdogan.

Putin said that if sanctions are lifted, Russia could export large quantities of fertilizer and agricultural products.

Zelensky also spoke to Erdogan and said that they discussed food security, defense cooperation, “and of course how to speed up an end to this war.”