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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy traveled to frontline towns along the Black Sea on Saturday to meet with soldiers and listen to operational updates in the region.
Zelenskyy donned his trademark khaki t-shirt as he handed out medals to soldiers fighting to stop Russian forces from overrunning the strategically vital port cities of Mykolaiv and Odessa.
Russian officials have said their goal is to take full control of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.
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While Russian forces have made gains in the east, Ukrainian troops have prevented them from making the same advances along the Black Sea, until now.
Russia has made attempts for Ukraine’s coastline since the invasion began nearly four months ago and the ensuing stalemate in the Black Sea has created a global food crisis as grain exports remain locked up in Ukrainian storage facilities.
Zelenskyy presented awards to Interior Ministry officials in Odessa for their “heroic” service and told them that their survival was paramount to Ukraine’s success.
“It is important that you are alive. As long as you are alive, there is a strong Ukrainian wall protecting our country,” he added.
While Ukrainian forces have kept Russian troops at bay in the south, Moscow has made greater advances in the eastern Donbass region where brutal fighting ensues in the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk.
Nearly 570 civilians remain locked in a chemical plant in the western city of Luhansk as Russian forces fight to take full control of it.
It’s unclear how many Ukrainian soldiers remain inside the partially besieged city, but officials fear the brutal ground and air assault could be a repeat of the catastrophic events that plagued Mariupol earlier in the war.
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Russian forces destroyed the last remaining bridge that connected Sievierodonetsk to western parts of Ukraine as they attempted to assert dominance over Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
If Russian forces are able to take control of Sievierodonetsk, they can more easily push forces west into Ukraine and south to try to pinch the southern regions from a northern direction.
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that “over the past 48 hours Russia has likely renewed its efforts to advance south of Izium, with the aim of advancing deeper into Izium Oblast. Donetsk and envelop the Sieverodonetsk pocket from the north”.
Russian forces said they were trying to open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave, but Ukrainian and Western officials warned that this was another attempt to forcibly deport Ukrainians to the Russia where tens of thousands of Ukrainians are said to have been sent.
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“Options to leave the city are limited by the destruction of bridges, but the route proposed by Russia would take them to the town of Svatova, deeper inside Russian-occupied territory,” the British ministry said. of the defense.
The ministry also warned that if the trapped civilians do not take any necessary corridors to leave the city, “Russia will likely invoke justification by making less distinction between them and any Ukrainian military targets in the area.”
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