Russia presses on to gain control in Donbas region

Ukrainian servicemen who surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel mill arrive in Olenivka, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV (REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES) - Russia is pressing for control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and has claimed victory in the months-long battle for Mariupol’s steel plant. It launched on Friday a major offensive on the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the eastern province of Luhansk. 

The last Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol’s smashed Azovstal steelworks surrendered on Friday, Russia’s defence ministry said. That ended the most destructive siege of the war. 

“The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant... has been completely liberated,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that 2,439 defenders had surrendered in the past few days, including 531 in the final group. 

Russia, meanwhile, took new steps to gird for an escalating struggle with the West over the war in Ukraine, moving to expand military recruitment to older citizens and severing gas supplies to Finland.

The two developments reflected the mounting pressure on Russia because of its three-month-old invasion of Ukraine, which has evolved into something of a stalemate that has seriously depleted the Kremlin’s conventional war capabilities. 

Under pressure to score victories and to shore up its forces for an intensifying battle in the Donbas region, Moscow on Friday moved to expand the pool of potential recruits to its military by eliminating the age limit for service. 

An amendment introduced by senior lawmakers in Russia’s Parliament would allow Russians older than 40 to sign first-time military service contracts. Under the current law, Russian citizens must be aged 18 to 40 to sign a first-time contract. 

To help keep the Ukrainian war effort running, the Group of Seven major economic powers on Friday agreed to provide nearly US$20 billion (S$28 billion) in grants and loans to support Ukraine’s economy over the coming months. 

Russia on Friday launched what appeared to be a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Luhansk, one of two Ukrainian provinces Moscow proclaims as independent states. 

A bus carrying Ukrainian armed forces who surrendered drives off in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, said in a social media post early yesterday that Russia was trying to destroy the city of Sievierodonetsk, with fighting taking place on the outskirts of the city. 

“Shelling continues from morning to evening and also throughout the night,” Mr Gaidai said in a video post on the Telegram messaging app. 

In the early hours yesterday, air raid sirens were going off in much of Ukraine, including in the Kyiv capital region and the southern port of Odesa. 

Capturing Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, much of which make up Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region, would allow Moscow to claim a victory after announcing last month that this was now its objective. 

A Russian serviceman watches as a bus carries Ukrainian soldiers away from the Azovstal steel mill, after their surrender. PHOTO: REUTERS

United States President Joe Biden yesterday signed a US$40 billion Bill set to ensure a steady supply of weaponry and economic support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia, the White House said. 

Mr Biden signed the Bill passed earlier by Congress while visiting Seoul. It includes around US$6 billion for armoured vehicles and air defences.

Russia said yesterday that it had destroyed a major consignment of Western arms in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles. Its defence ministry said the strike took out “a large batch of weapons and military equipment delivered from the USA and European countries”.

So-called emergency management specialists load the body of a person killed during the conflict onto a truck, in the southern port city of Mariupol, on May 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

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