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Russian-backed separatists claimed to have captured a railway town in eastern Ukraine as Moscow forces sought to gain more ground on Friday by shelling another Ukrainian-held area where authorities say 1 500 people have died since the start of the war.
As the Russian offensive in Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region shows gradual progress, Ukrainian officials have characterized the battle in serious terms and renewed their calls for more sophisticated weapons supplied by the West.
Ukraine’s foreign minister pleaded for “guns, guns and more guns”, warning that without a further injection of foreign weapons, Ukrainian forces would not be able to stop Russia’s advance towards ballast.
Friday’s fighting focused on two key towns: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. These are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbass and where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled certain territories for eight years.
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“There are battles on the outskirts of the city. Massive artillery shelling does not stop, day and night,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told The Associated Press. “The city is systematically destroyed – 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”
An assault was underway in the northeast quarter of the city, where Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups attempted Friday to seize the Mir Hotel and the area around it, Stryuk said.
At least 1,500 people have died in Sievierodonetsk since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, he said.
The figure includes those killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated illnesses, lack of medicine or that they were trapped under the rubble, according to the mayor.
“For a month and a half, because of the shelling, it has not been possible to provide people with comprehensive medical care,” Stryuk said.
There are around 12,000 to 13,000 people left in the town – down from a pre-war population of around 100,000, he said.
Russian shelling has killed four people in Sievierodonetsk in the past 24 hours, regional governor Serhiy Haidai wrote in a Telegram post on Friday.
In Donetsk, the other province in the Donbass region, Russian-backed rebels said on Friday they had taken control of Lyman, a major rail hub north of two other key towns that remain under Ukrainian control.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich acknowledged that “we lost Lyman” on Thursday night. However, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported on Friday that its soldiers countered Russian attempts to push them out of the city altogether.
Near the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine, 10 people were killed and around 35 injured in Russian missile strikes against a National Guard base, according to the head of the Dnipro territorial defense forces.
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As Ukraine’s hopes of stopping the Russian advance faded, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations to supply his country with more weapons.
“We need heavy weapons. The only position where Russia is better than us is in the amount of heavy weapons they have. Without artillery, without multiple rocket launcher systems, we will not be able to repel them “, Kuleba said in a video. posted Thursday evening on Twitter.
In his overnight address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had harsh words for the European Union, which has not agreed to a sixth round of sanctions, including an embargo on Russian oil.
Zelenskyy said Russia’s offensive in Donbass could leave its communities in ashes and uninhabitable. He accused Moscow of pursuing “an obvious policy of genocide” through mass deportations and killings of civilians.
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On Thursday, the Russian shelling of Kharkiv, a northeastern city that came under attack as Ukrainian forces blocked invading troops from entering, killed nine people, including a father and his 5-month-old baby, said President.
Associated Press reporters saw the bodies of at least two dead and four wounded men at a central subway station, where the victims were taken as shelling continued outside.
Zelenskyy also spoke bluntly about what is at stake in the battle for eastern Ukraine.
“The pressure on Russia is literally about saving lives,” he said. “And every day of delay, weakness, various disputes or proposals to ‘appease’ the aggressor at the expense of the victim means new Ukrainians killed. And new threats for everyone on our continent.”
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Germany’s development minister visited Ukraine on Friday to pledge additional civilian support and discuss the country’s reconstruction. The Austrian Chancellor, meanwhile, was due to discuss possible prisoner exchanges with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow on Thursday urged the West to lift sanctions already imposed during the war, seeking to shift blame for a growing global food crisis that has been compounded by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products while under attack.
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