© Reuters. A Ukrainian soldier inspects a building destroyed by a Russian military strike as the Russian offensive on Ukraine continues on May 28, 2022 in the town of Marinka in Donetsk region, Ukraine. Photograph: Anna Kudryavtseva/Reuters
Written by Max Hunder and Mary Saito
Kyiv/Kharkiv, Ukraine (Reuters) – European Union leaders will meet on Monday to reaffirm their support for Ukraine as Russian forces step up their offensive to seize Severodonetsk, a key city in southeastern Donbass, a region Moscow has prioritized full control. .
The incessant bombardment prompted Ukrainian forces to defend the ruins at Severodonetsk, but their refusal to withdraw impeded a large-scale Russian offensive through the Donbass.
About 90% of the buildings were damaged. More than two-thirds of housing in the city was completely destroyed. “There is no telecommunications,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised address.
“The capture of Sievierodonetsk is an essential task of the occupiers … We are doing everything in our power to preserve this progress.”
Zelensky visited Ukrainian forces on the front lines in the northeastern Kharkiv region on Sunday in his first trip outside the Kyiv region since the invasion began.
“You are risking your lives for all of us and for our country,” the president’s office quoted him as telling the soldiers as he offered praise and gifts.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the “liberation” of Donbass, the industrial region that includes Luhansk and Donetsk, was an “absolute priority” for Moscow.
Ukrainian forces in Donbass said they were on the defensive all day Sunday. Russian forces fired on 46 towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, killing at least three civilians, wounding two others, and destroying or damaging 62 civilian buildings.
Russian shelling also continued on Sunday in several regions such as Novi Poh in Mykolaiv and Sumy.
A Ukrainian soldier patrolling trenches near the town of Pakhmut, southwest of Severodonetsk, has spoken of nagging fears that his government might be drawn into negotiations to end the conflict, which could lead to Ukraine losing territory.
“Now do you know what I fear the most right now is that the fight is so fierce and difficult?” Dmytro, a former English teacher, told Reuters TV. We will be told: That’s it, stop, we have a truce.
“A negotiated settlement can only happen on Ukrainian terms, and if that is reached, it would be a horror for the time being,” he said, adding that such a move could end Zelensky’s career.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has expressed fears that the EU’s unity is “beginning to unravel” as the bloc’s leaders are set to meet for a summit on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a new package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo.
The draft results of the meeting, seen by Reuters, showed that while the EU would give Kyiv generous verbal support, it would make no progress on any of the major issues.
EU governments have failed to agree on a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow because the proposed embargo on Russian oil is unacceptable to Hungary and a major problem for Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
After Russia’s failure to capture the capital Kyiv, in the early stages of the war, Russia is trying to tighten its grip on the Donbass River, much of which is already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
The Ukrainian government has urged the West to provide more long-range weapons to change the course of the war, now in its fourth month. Zelensky said he expects “good news” in the coming days.
US officials said such weapons systems are being actively considered. Canada has asked South Korea to supply artillery shells, Seoul said Monday, apparently to “replenish” supplies Ottawa is sending to Ukraine.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington said that the Russians had not yet managed to encircle Severodonetsk and that the Ukrainian defenders had inflicted “heavy losses” on them.
According to a press release, the Ukrainians suffer heavy losses from civilians and fighters.
Analysts said Russia’s focus on Sievierodonetsk has diverted resources from other fronts and, as a result, has made little progress elsewhere.