KYIV (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS) - Ukraine said on Thursday (May 26) that fighting in the eastern Donbas region had reached its fiercest level yet, as Russian forces pushed deeper into the industrial region.
“The fighting has reached its maximum intensity,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told a press briefing.
“Enemy forces are storming the positions of our troops simultaneously in several directions. We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us,” she added.
Moscow’s army has plotted a slow but steady course deeper into the Donbas region since withdrawing forces from central and northern regions to consolidate military efforts in the east.
They are closing in around several key urban hubs, particularly Severodonetsk and Lysychansk that stand en route to Ukraine’s eastern administrative centre in Kramatorsk.
“The situation remains difficult and shows signs of further aggravation,” Ms Malyar said. “We must understand that this is a war and, unfortunately, losses on our part are inevitable,” she added.
A senior Ukrainian military official conceded at a briefing yesterday that Russia had the upper hand in fighting in the eastern Luhansk region at present.
“Russia has the advantage, but we are doing everything we can,” General Oleksiy Gromov said.
He also said Ukraine had observed Russia moving Iskander missile systems to Belarus’ western Brest region, which raised the possibility of new missile strikes on west Ukraine.
Elsewhere, the Kremlin yesterday said the West only had itself to blame for a brewing food crisis due to problems getting Ukraine’s grain out to world markets, demanding the United States and its allies scrap what it cast as illegal sanctions.
The United Nations, which says a global food crisis is deepening, is trying to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports though Western leaders have blamed Russia for holding the world to ransom by blockading Ukrainian ports.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected those accusations and said the West was to blame for the situation.
“We categorically reject these accusations and, on the contrary, accuse Western countries that they have taken a number of illegal actions that led to this,” he told reporters.
“They (the West) must cancel those illegal decisions that prevent the chartering of ships, that prevent the export of grain, and so on” so that supplies can resume, he said.
Russia has captured some of Ukraine’s biggest seaports and its navy controls major transport routes in the Black Sea, where extensive mining has made commercial shipping dangerous.
Sanctions have also made it hard for Russian exporters to access vessels to move commodities to global markets.
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies.
Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus – which has backed Moscow in the war and is also under sanctions – account for over 40 per cent of global exports of the crop nutrient potash.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia was trying to “blackmail” the international community by raising the possibility of an offer to unblock the Black Sea ports in return for a relaxation of sanctions.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday savaged suggestions that Kyiv give up territory and make concessions to end the war with Russia, saying the idea smacked of attempts to appease Nazi Germany in 1938.
In 1938, Britain, France, Italy and Germany signed a pact in Munich that gave Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler land in the then Czechoslovakia as part of a failed attempt to persuade him to abandon further territorial expansion.
“Let me remind you, it’s now 2022,” said Mr Zelensky in a late night video address.