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Russians, Ukrainians Fight Block by Block in Eastern City

Ukrainian tanks move in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Ukrainian tanks move in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Russian troops pushed deeper into a key eastern Ukrainian city Monday, fighting street by street with Kyiv’s forces in a battle that has left Sievierodonetsk in ruins. In a bid to pressure Moscow to end the war, the European Union agreed to embargo most Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

As Moscow’s advance on Sievierodonetsk increased in intensity, Russian forces also shelled parts of Ukraine’s northeast, and a struggle continued for control of a southern region. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said Russia has prevented the export of 22 million tons of Ukrainian grain, contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Military analysts described the fight for Sievierodonetsk as part of a race against time for the Kremlin. The city is important to Russian efforts to quickly complete the capture of the eastern industrial region of the Donbas before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defense. Moscow-backed separatists already held territory in the region and have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years.

“The Kremlin has reckoned that it can’t afford to waste time and should use the last chance to extend the separatist-controlled territory because the arrival of Western weapons in Ukraine could make it impossible,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

In a potential setback for Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden appeared to dismiss reports that the U.S. was considering sending long-range rocket systems to the country.

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said the city has been “completely ruined.” Artillery fire has destroyed critical infrastructure and damaged 90% of the buildings, and power and communications have been largely cut to a city that was once home to 100,000 people, he said.

“The number of victims is rising every hour, but we are unable to count the dead and the wounded amid the street fighting,” Striuk told The Associated Press in a phone interview, adding that Moscow’s troops advanced a few more blocks toward the city center.

He said that only about 12,000 to 13,000 residents remain, sheltering in basements and bunkers to escape the Russian bombardment. The situation recalls the siege of Mariupol, which trapped residents and led to some of the worst suffering of the war. More than 20,000 are feared dead in Mariupol.

Striuk estimated that 1,500 civilians have died in Sievierodonetsk since the war began from Russian attacks and from dire conditions that include a lack of medicine and medical treatment.

A 32-year-old French journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, died Monday near Sievierodonetsk when he was hit by shrapnel from shelling while covering Ukrainian evacuations, according to his employer, French broadcaster BFM TV.

Zelenskyy said Leclerc-Imhoff was the 32nd media worker to die in Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

Governors of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions — which make up the Donbas — said six civilians, including the journalist, were killed in shelling. Authorities in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, also reported one person died in shelling there.

Zelenskyy said Russian troops also shelled the Sumy region near the Russian border, and the struggle continued for the southern Kherson region, which has been largely controlled by Russian troops since the early days of the war. Russia-installed officials there said they would ask the Kremlin to annex it, while Kyiv, in turn, has vowed to liberate the region.

The Russian advance in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk on either side of the strategically important Siverskiy Donetsk River is part of an all-out push, said Zhdanov, the Ukrainian military analyst. He said the intensity of the latest fighting and the influx of Russian troops have surprised Ukrainians, who are trying to hold out until more weapons arrive.

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