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# latest
Russian forces tighten grip on strategically key city of Severodonetsk
Moscow’s troops have been pummelling the battleground Lugansk region.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 23rd 2022, 8:06 AM

HEAVY RUSSIAN BOMBARDMENT of Ukraine’s battleground eastern Lugansk region and key city Severodonetsk has been “hell” for soldiers there, Kyiv said today, while insisting that defenders would hold on “as long as necessary”.

Moscow’s troops have been pummelling eastern Ukraine for weeks and are slowly advancing, despite fierce resistance from the outgunned Ukrainian military.

With President Vladimir Putin’s forces tightening their grip on the strategically important city of Severodonetsk in the Donbas, its twin city of Lysychansk is now coming under heavier bombardment.

“The Russian army is … just destroying everything” in Lysychansk, Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region, which includes both cities, wrote on Telegram.

“It’s just hell out there,” after four months of shelling in Severodonetsk, across the Donets river, he wrote later.

“Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold on as long as necessary,” he added.

Pro-Russian separatists claimed they were close to surrounding both Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.

politics-ukraine PA Graphics PA Graphics

“Over the past several days enormous work has been accomplished,” Andrei Marochko, an officer in the separatist army of Lugansk, told Russian state television.

EU candidacy

Meanwhile, EU leaders will gather in Brussels today to discuss calls to formally grant war-torn Ukraine “candidate status” to join the bloc.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had been conducting a “telephone marathon” on his country’s behalf in the run-up to the meeting, making his case to 11 European leaders yesterday alone.

“We are preparing for the historic decision of the European Council. There are only a few hours remaining before it,” he said in his daily address.

belgium-eu-summit AP / PA Images Protestors hold signs during a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside of an EU summit in Brussels AP / PA Images / PA Images

But while the European Commission-backed candidacy is widely expected to be approved, some members have been lukewarm about Ukraine’s status, and any accession process is likely to take years, if not decades.

‘Food shortage will kill millions’

While the war rages, the global food shortage sparked by the invasion will kill millions by leaving the hungriest more vulnerable to infectious diseases, the head of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria said.

A Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has stopped grain shipments from the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wheat and corn, raising the spectre of shortages and hunger in low-income countries.

Peter Sands told AFP that the new health crisis had already begun.

“I think we’ve probably already begun our next health crisis. It’s not a new pathogen but it means people who are poorly nourished will be more vulnerable to the existing diseases,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a G20 health minister meeting in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.

“I think the combined impact of infectious diseases and the food shortages and the energy crisis… we can be talking about millions of extra deaths because of this,” he said.

World governments should minimise the impact of the food crisis by providing frontline healthcare to their poorest communities, who will be the most vulnerable, said the British former banker who now heads the $4 billion fund.

“That means focusing on primary healthcare so the healthcare that is delivered in the villages, in the communities. Hospitals are important but when you are faced with this kind of challenge, the most important thing is primary healthcare.”

The health expert said solving the food crisis was now paramount in aiding the treatment of the world’s second-deadliest infectious disease, tuberculosis.

The West and Ukraine accuse Russia of trying to pressure them into concessions by blockading vital grain exports to increase fears of global famine.

Moscow has countered by saying that it is Western sanctions that are to blame for shortfalls in the Middle East and Africa.

Germany will host a meeting on the crisis on Friday under the title “Uniting for Global Food Security”, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those attending.

“It is the poor person pandemic and because of that, it hasn’t attracted the same amount of investment in research and development,” Sands said, referring to tuberculosis.

“This is a tragedy because this is a disease we know how to prevent, how to cure, we know how to get rid of.”

‘Only grannies left’

After being pushed back from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine following their February invasion, Moscow is seeking to seize a vast eastern swathe of the country.

But daily bombardment continues elsewhere.

The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was near empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after shelling by Moscow’s forces killed five people there.

Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house, said the situation was “very bad”.

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from the bombardment while I was sleeping,” she said.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old in a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the city.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again pressed for the rapid supply of arms from Western allies, having earlier accused the Russian army of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the eastern Kharkiv region, where the governor said 15 people had been killed in a day.

As Ukraine awaits the delivery of advanced rocket systems, a new report from the Institute for the Study of War suggests its use of drones, a key factor in early success against Russian forces, is increasingly being hampered by improvements to Moscow’s air-defence capabilities.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, meanwhile, women were training to use Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces edged nearer.

farewell-ceremony-for-commander-of-carpathian-sich-battalion-oleh-kutsyn Ruslan Kaniuka Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko speaks during a farewell ceremony for the Carpathian Sich Battalion Commander Oleh Kutsyn who died fighting. Ruslan Kaniuka

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through an improvised combat zone in a basement.

Separately, Iulia Tserkovnikova, lawyer for captured British combatant Shaun Pinner has told Russia’s TASS news agency that she and her staff are preparing an appeal of his recent death sentence.

Pinner, along with fellow British citizen Aiden Aslin and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, were sentenced to death by pro-Moscow separatists in the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic earlier this month.

The trio were accused of being hired mercenaries, a description Russia has broadly applied to foreigners volunteers fighting for Kyiv.

G7 to ‘increase pressure’

Away from the battlefield, a senior US official in Washington said President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders holding a summit this weekend in Germany would announce new measures to punish Russia for the invasion.

Moscow this week summoned Brussels’ ambassador in a dispute with EU member Lithuania over the country’s restrictions on rail traffic to the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.

The territory, annexed from Germany following World War II, is about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) from Moscow, bordering Lithuania and Poland.

By blocking goods arriving from Russia, Lithuania says it is simply adhering to European Union-wide sanctions on Moscow.

The United States made clear its commitment to Lithuania as NATO ally, while Germany urged Russia not to “violate international law” by retaliating.

© AFP 2022

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