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Ukraine says fighting in Donbas has reached maximum intensity as four killed in Kharkiv attack

The Ukrainian president called out the international community for paying too much attention to Russia’s interests and too little to Ukraine’s.

A resident enters her home building ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine.
A resident enters her home building ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine.
Image: AP

Updated May 26th 2022, 3:47 PM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS HAVE said that fighting in the eastern Donbas region of the country had reached its fiercest level yet, as Russian forces pushed deeper into the industrial region.

“The fighting has reached its maximum intensity,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar told a press briefing.

“Enemy forces are storming the positions of our troops simultaneously in several directions. We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us,” she added.

Moscow’s army has plotted a slow but steady course deeper into the Donbas region since withdrawing forces from central and northern regions to consolidate military efforts in the east.

They are closing in around several key urban hubs, particularly Severodonetsk and Lysychansk that stand on route to Ukraine’s eastern administrative centre in Kramatorsk.

“The situation remains difficult and shows signs of further aggravation,” Malyar said.

“We must understand that this is a war and, unfortunately, losses on our part are inevitable,” she added.

The Lugansk region’s governor Sergiy Gaiday said that “heavy” Russian bombardments on Lysychansk had done extensive damage to civilian infrastructure, including a humanitarian aid centre.

Gaiday said that three people had died in recent Russian attacks on the region, which Moscow’s forces have said they have nearly complete control over.

It comes as four people were killed in fresh Russian shelling of Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv, regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said on Telegram.

“The occupiers are again shelling the regional centre,” said Sinegubov.

“According to preliminary information, seven people were injured. Unfortunately, four were killed.”

“We ask residents of Kharkiv and surroundings to be in shelters,” he said.

He said information about the shelling was being clarified and did not give details of where the strikes hit.

An AFP reporter in Kharkiv said the shelling hit the northern residential district of Pavlove Pole and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area.

Kharkiv, in the north-east corner of Ukraine near the Russian border, was heavily shelled by Moscow’s forces at the start of their invasion, which began on February 24.

After heavy battles and severe destruction of the city, Ukrainian forces retained control of Kharkiv.

‘I am not scared’

Since failing in its early objective of capturing Ukraine’s capital, Moscow’s army has plotted a slow but steady course deeper into the country’s eastern Donbas region.

Fierce fighting is now centred on Severodonetsk, as Ukrainian forces try to stop Russian troops encircling the city and cutting off the lone road in.

Ukraine’s presidency said in a morning update that “Russian troops tried to storm Severodonetsk and Lysychansk”, with three people killed in Lysychansk.

“It is clear that slowly, slowly, our guys (Ukrainian soldiers) are simply retreating to more fortified positions,” Gaiday said on Telegram today.

“It’s very hard for the guys. Extremely hard. But they are holding on”.

In the eastern front city of Kramatorsk, children are roaming the rubble as the sound of shellfire booms.

“That was a 22 (122-mm artillery),” said Yevgen, a sombre-looking 13-year-old who moved to Kramatorsk with his mother from the ruins of his village Galyna.

“I am not scared,” he declared as he sat alone on a slab of a destroyed apartment block. “I got used to the shelling in Galyna.”

Four civilians were killed in shelling in the Donetsk region around Kramatorsk, while two were killed in Kharkiv region in the northeast, the Ukrainian presidency said.

‘Without limits’

As the fighting raged, Zelenskyy called out the international community for paying too much attention to Moscow’s interests.

He took specific aim at former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the New York Times for suggesting territorial sacrifices might be necessary to end the conflict.

Kissinger this week told Davos that a return to the “status quo” before Russia’s invasion would could prevent a broader war.

Russia formally annexed Crimea in 2014, while separatist groups aligned with Moscow have controlled parts of Donbas, which comprises Donetsk and Lugansk regions, since the same time.

But Zelenskyy ruled out any such concessions and urged the West to add to the billions of dollars of weapons it has already poured into Ukraine.

“We need the help of our partners — above all, weapons for Ukraine. Full help, without exceptions, without limits, enough to win,” Zelenskyy said in his daily address to the nation.

Earlier today, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz vowed today that Vladimir Putin will neither win the Ukraine war nor dictate the terms for peace.

Germany has faced frequent Ukrainian criticism for not doing enough to help, but Scholz underscored the “resolve and strength” of Berlin and Western allies.

“Our goal is crystal clear — Putin must not win this war. And I am convinced that he will not win it,” the German chancellor told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Putin has “already failed in all his strategic aims” and Russia’s plan to capture all of Ukraine is “further away today than it was at the beginning” of its invasion on February 24.

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“It is a matter of making it clear to Putin that there will be no dictated peace,” said Scholz. “Ukraine will not accept that and neither will we.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had earlier told Davos that his country “badly” needs multiple-launch rocket systems to match Russian firepower.

Kyiv has also been pushing for a full energy embargo on Russia in addition to the sweeping economic sanctions already imposed on Moscow since the invasion.

‘Show me one Nazi!’

Russia’s central bank cut its key interest rate today to 11% from 14% following an emergency meeting, as authorities sought to rein in the ruble which has surged in value despite the conflict in Ukraine.

Moscow slapped strict capital controls to boost the economy after the imposition of the sanctions and since then the ruble has staged a spectacular rebound — but Russia fears a strong ruble can hit budget revenues and exporters.

Russia has meanwhile called on the West to lift the sanctions in exchange for freeing up grain exports, with fears mounting of a global food crisis, particularly in Africa.

The Kremlin is also seeking to tighten its grip over the parts of Ukraine it occupies, including fast-tracking citizenship for residents of two southern regions that are mostly under Russian control.

The United States branded the plan an “attempt to subjugate the people of Ukraine”.

Even in areas where Ukraine has pushed back Russian forces, such as around the second city of Kharkiv, the shells continue to fall.

Russia’s rationale of a “special military operation” to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” Ukraine draws a snort of derision in one village near Kharkiv.

“Show me one Nazi in the village! We have our nation, we are nationalists but not Nazis nor fascists,” says retired nurse Larysa Kosynets.

‘Clear blackmail’

Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour has caused global shockwaves, with the latest being fears of food shortages, particularly in Africa.

Moscow blamed the international sanctions imposed after the invasion, while the West says the shortage is mainly down to Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

“Solving the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the removal of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko.

But Kuleba urged the West not to give in.

“This is clear blackmail. You could not find a better example of blackmail in international relations,” Kuleba said in Davos.

© – AFP, 2022

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