Ukrainian forces maintain desperate resistance near Syevyerodonetsk and remain rebellious


Desperate Ukrainian forces have continued to put up fierce resistance in and around Syevyerodonetsk, bolstered politically by vocal support from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union ahead of a summit next week that could lead to candidate status for the EU.

Syevyerodonetsk, at the center of the Russian offensive to take full control of the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, remained under heavy artillery fire on June 18, as did the sister city of Lysychansk, just on the other side. of the Severskiy Donets river.

On June 18, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a rare trip outside the capital, Kyiv, visiting the beleaguered southern city of Mykolaiv for the first time since the Russian invasion began in February.

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“Our brave men and women, each one of them is working hard,” Zelenskiy said in a video from Mykolaiv. “We will definitely hold on! We will definitely win! »

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s chief negotiator David Arakhamia told Voice of America without giving details that Kyiv plans to resume peace talks with Russia by the end of August after counter operations -attacks have been carried out and that the country is in a better position to negotiate.

Johnson, who made a surprise visit to Kyiv on June 17, urged fellow Western leaders to avoid “Ukraine fatigue” as the conflict drags on nearly four months after Russia’s unprovoked invasion .

“The Russians are moving forward bit by bit, and it’s vital for us to show what we know to be true, which is that Ukraine can and will win,” he told reporters in London. .

“As Ukraine fatigue sets in, it’s very important to show that we’re with them for the long haul and giving them the strategic resilience they need,” Johnson added.

The Ukrainian military said on June 18 that there was “continuous artillery and rocket launcher fire at the positions of our troops and civilian infrastructure” in Lysychansk.

Serhiy Hayday, the military governor of Luhansk, the region where the twin cities of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk are located, said late June 18 that Russian offensives on towns and villages south of Syevyerodonetsk had been pushed forward by Ukrainian forces, although that the situation remains “difficult”. in many areas.

“The Russians have launched all their reserves in the direction of Syevyerodonetsk and Bakhmut,” Hayday said in an online post.

“They are trying to establish full control over the regional center and cut off the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway. They are failing. They are dying en masse.”

Rodion Miroshnik, an official in what separatists call the Luhansk People’s Republic, said in an online post that a large explosion shook the Syevyerodonetsk region and a large orange cloud was seen in the air.

Battlefield claims on both sides could not be immediately verified.

The UK Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 18 that in the past 48 hours Russian forces have likely renewed their push south of the town of Izyum, some 115 kilometers northwest of Syevyerodonetsk, aiming to envelop the town from the north.

Hayday said it was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians who are trapped inside the Azot chemical plant in Syevyerodonetsk.

He said around 10,000 civilians, out of a pre-war population of 100,000, remain trapped in Syevyerodonetsk as essential supplies run out.

The United Nations estimated the number of civilians still trapped in the city at 12,000.

Earlier this week, Russia offered what it called a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians to Moscow-controlled territory and demanded that Ukrainian fighters entrenched in the Azot plant surrender. Ukraine ignored the Russian offer.

The British intelligence bulletin noted that Russia, both early in the Ukraine campaign and in Syria, used unilaterally declared humanitarian corridors as a mechanism to manipulate battlespace and impose the forcible transfer of populations.

The route proposed by Russia, according to British intelligence, would take civilians to the town of Svatova, deeper inside Russian-occupied territory.

If trapped civilians refuse Moscow’s offer to exit through a corridor, Russia is likely to invoke justification by making less distinction between them and any Ukrainian military targets in the area, British intelligence concluded in their bulletin.

In Mykolaiv, Zelenskiy “inspected the Mykolaiv regional administration building which was destroyed as a result of a missile strike by Russian forces,” the president’s office said in a statement.

Mykolaiv provided defense for southern Ukraine, as it lies on the way to the key strategic port of Odessa on the Black Sea.

Zelenskiy’s visit came a day after a Russian strike killed two people and injured 20 in Mykolaiv, which has been regularly targeted by Russian forces since their invasion began on February 24.

Zelenskiy also took part in a meeting with local officials in what looked like an underground basement, handing out awards for his bravery.

Russian forces also launched missile strikes on Ukraine’s largest oil refinery on July 18, according to the regional governor of the central Poltava region.

“Kremenchuk [oil refinery] is again under enemy control. Between six and eight Russian missiles hit refineries and other infrastructure,” Dmytro Lunin said in a Telegram message.

Ukraine said its forces sank a Russian navy tug with two Harpoon missiles in the Black Sea on June 17, the first time it claimed to have hit a Russian vessel with anti-ship weapons supplied by the West.

“Later it became known that it sank,” Odessa military governor Maksym Marchenko said in a video statement on his Telegram channel after first reports that the ship Vasily Bech had been hit.

The allegation could not be independently confirmed. There were no comments from the Russian side.

Ukraine has repeatedly requested more advanced heavy weapons to help its outnumbered and outgunned forces repel Russia’s all-out assault.

British Prime Minister Johnson offered to launch a military training program for Ukrainian forces during his surprise meeting with Zelenskiy in Kyiv on June 17.

Ukraine has lost thousands of its best soldiers in the bitter war in Donbass, eastern Ukraine. Zelenskiy said up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers die every day.

With reporting from Reuters, BBC, AFP and dpa

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