War in Ukraine

Ukraine urges allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons

Battle against Russian forces in industrial heartland of Donbas entering 'fearsome climax'

KYIV • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his country's allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield, saying Moscow's massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region.

"We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly," Mr Zelensky said in a video address yesterday.

Russia focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the conflict was thwarted by dogged Ukrainian resistance.

The war of attrition in the Donbas - Ukraine's industrial heartland - is most critical in the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which straddle the Siversky Donets River in Luhansk province.

The battle there is "entering a sort of fearsome climax", said Mr Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr Zelensky.

Ukrainian forces were defending Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said, but Russian forces had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, while Ukraine and Russia dispute who controls the bombed-out city.

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded and trapped.

But Mr Gaidai told Ukrainian Television on Wednesday that Russian forces did not have full control of Sievierodonetsk. Mr Gaidai said all Lysychansk was within reach of Russian fire.

"In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions. There may be a regrouping after last night," he said.

Tass news agency cited Russian-backed separatists saying Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road connecting the city to the town Sieviersk was taken.

Britain's Defence Ministry said some Ukrainian units had withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled.

"Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk poc-ket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance... However, its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled," the ministry said.

A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine told AFP yesterday that it was "futile" for Ukrainian forces to defend Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk.

"Their resistance is pointless and futile. I think that at the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Luhansk People's Republic will be liberated," said Mr Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the army of Luhansk, a pro-Russian breakaway region in eastern Ukraine.

According to Mr Marochko, Lysychansk is practically surrounded as Russian forces and their separatist allies are now controlling the main supply route to the city.

"We have full logistical control," he said, a day after separatists claimed to have encircled the neighbouring village of Zolote and Hirske.

Mr Marochko said Ukrainian soldiers in Lysychansk must retreat, or risk being killed or captured.

The same is true for the defenders of Sievierodonetsk, where the embattled city's defenders are holed up inside the Azot chemical plant, he added. "If we close in on Lysychansk, the group in Sieviero-donetsk will also be surrounded."

Capturing Sievierodonetsk - the largest city in Luhansk still under Ukrainian control - would allow Moscow's forces to advance farther west.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2022, with the headline Ukraine urges allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons. Subscribe