Russian forces have broken through a key defensive line as they work to capture a critical town in Luhansk province.
Russian forces broke through a key Ukrainian defense line in a bid to control the breakaway province of Lugansk.
Vladimir Putin’s invading army has tightened its grip around two cities in eastern Ukraine – Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, staging a decisive confrontation with the Ukrainian defenders.
The Battle of Donbass has been raging since April this year, with Moscow focusing on securing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions after its forces failed to capture Kyiv.
And in a major development, the Russian army is said to have broken through a defensive line and captured a number of key villages, the New York Times reports.
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Russian forces appeared poised to consolidate control of Sievierodonetsk, a key industrial city in the Luhansk region that Ukrainian troops fought resolutely to retain.
Ukrainian forces in Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk now face a choice: stay and defend the towns, risking encirclement, or withdraw and abandon major urban centers to Moscow.
Russia almost completely conquered Sievierodonetsk, with only a few pockets of resistance remaining. On the other side of the Siversky Donets river, the Ukrainian artillery is entrenched in the hills of Lysychansk.
Capturing Sievierodonetsk became a key objective for the Russians, as it would open the road to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk.
The Russians destroyed the three bridges spanning a river between the city and Lysychansk just to the west, which is “likely to isolate the remaining Ukrainian defenders in the city from critical lines of communication”, according to the US Institute of War .
“Sievierodonetsk is a key point in the defense operations system of the Lugansk region,” Valeriy Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, said on Telegram on Wednesday.
“The enemy has concentrated its main strike forces in the north and is trying to attack in nine directions at once,” he said, calling the fighting “fierce”.
From a high position in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke rising from the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk and from another area of the city.
The Ukrainian army was using the heights to exchange fire with Russian forces across the river.
“It’s scary, very scary,” said Valentina, 83, a retiree from Lysychansk. “Why can’t they finally agree, for God’s sake, just shake hands?”
Ukraine’s newest weapons
At another location in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian forces paraded and fired their new French-supplied Caesar truck-mounted howitzers.
“This system is primarily very maneuverable and mobile,” said the system commander, who only gave his name as Glib. “In modern warfare, this is a crucial factor.
In Brussels, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov and other officials met with about 50 countries from the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group at NATO headquarters to demand an increase in arms and ammunition.
“Brussels, we are waiting for a decision,” Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior Zelensky official, said ahead of the meeting, warning that Ukrainian artillery is outmatched 10 to one by the Russians.
“Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore there is an urgent need to step up,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
Senior US defense officials have defended the pace of arms deliveries while stressing that some weapons Kyiv wants, such as Himars systems, require weeks of training before they can go into battle.
“We are really focused on what the leaders believe are their current needs in this fight,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“And I think the international community has done a pretty good job of providing that capability. But it’s never enough,” he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, insisted that with every request from his Ukrainian counterpart, “as quickly as possible, we get a source through the international community, through the United States and our allies and partners, and we’re getting this done as quickly as possible. – Putin talks to Xi – Meanwhile, Putin stressed he was not as internationally isolated as his enemies would like with a call with Chinese Xi, their second reported call since Russia attacked the country. Ukraine on February 24.
The Kremlin said the two leaders agreed to step up economic cooperation in the face of “illegal” Western sanctions.
China‘s state broadcaster CCTV told Xi to Putin that Beijing was “willing to continue offering mutual support (to Russia) on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security.” China has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by criticizing Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.
China expresses support for Russia
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced $1 billion in new weapons for Ukraine as Pentagon officials defended the pace and quality of supplies as meeting the needs of the Kyiv battlefield.
Ukrainian troops shelled Russian targets on the front lines in the eastern Donbass region with newly arrived French Caesar howitzers, as Ukrainian officials met in Brussels with Western allies, hoping to secure more ammunition and more lethal weapons to turn the tide on the invaders.
Russian forces continued to pressure Kyiv troops in the Donbass as Russian President Vladimir Putin held further phone talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during which Xi expressed support for “sovereignty and to the security” of Russia. The newest set of US weapons includes an additional 18 155mm howitzers and 36,000 rounds of ammunition for them; two land-based Harpoon anti-ship missile systems; and additional rockets for four Himars precision rocket artillery systems that Ukraine will soon field.
Biden said he told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call on Wednesday that “the United States will stand with Ukraine as it defends its democracy and will support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.” . “The bravery, resilience and determination of the people of Ukraine continue to inspire the world,” Biden said.
– with AFP