As Russia claimed progress in its aim to seize the entirety of disputed eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin on Saturday tried to shake European resolve to punish his country with sanctions and continue to supply weapons that have supported the defense of Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Lyman, the second small town to fall to Russia this week, had been “completely liberated” by a joint force of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists, who made the war for eight years in the industrial region of Donbass on the Russian border.
Ukraine’s rail system transported weapons and evacuated citizens through Lyman, a key rail hub in the east of the country. Control of it would also give the Russian military another foothold in the region; it has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets River, which has so far hampered the Russian advance into Donbass.
The Kremlin said Putin had an 80-minute phone call with French and German leaders on Saturday in which he warned against continued Western arms transfers to Ukraine and blamed the disruption of supplies global food supply by Western sanctions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron have called for an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops, according to the Chancellor’s spokesperson. Both urged Putin to engage in serious direct negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to end the fighting, the spokesman said.
A Kremlin reading of the call between Macron, Putin and Scholz said the Russian leader had affirmed “the Russian side’s openness to resuming dialogue”. The three leaders, who had gone weeks without speaking to each other in the spring, agreed to stay in touch, according to the reading.
But Russia’s recent progress in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up Donbass, could further embolden Putin. Since failing to occupy Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, Russia has moved to seize the last parts of the region not controlled by the separatists.
“If Russia succeeded in taking control of these areas, it would most likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantial political achievement and would be presented to the Russian people as justification for the invasion,” the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Saturday. Evaluation.
Russia has intensified its efforts to capture the major cities of Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, which are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province. Zelenskyy called the situation in the east “difficult” but expressed confidence that his country would prevail with the help of Western weapons and sanctions.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are mistaken. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” he said.
Protests against Putin’s unwarranted war have taken place around the world since he launched the offensive on February 24. On Saturday, activists demonstrated against alleged rapes by Russian troops and the war in general outside the Russian consulate in New York.
The governor of Luhansk reported that Ukrainian fighters repelled an assault on Sievierodonetsk but Russian troops were still pushing to surround them. Speaking to Ukrainian TV later on Saturday, Governor Serhii Haidai said the Russians had seized a hotel on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said on Friday that some 1,500 civilians in the city with a pre-war population of around 100,000 died there during the war, including from lack of medicine or disease. that could not be processed.
The advance of Russian forces raised fears that residents could suffer the same horrors as residents of the southeastern port city of Mariupol in the weeks before its fall. Residents who had not yet fled had to choose between risking it now or staying put.
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Just south of Sievierodonetsk, AP journalists saw elderly and sick civilians locked in soft stretchers and slowly carried down the stairs of an apartment building on Friday in Bakhmut, a town in the northeastern province from Donetsk.
Svetlana Lvova, the manager of two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to convince reluctant residents to leave but said she and her husband would not evacuate until their son, who was in Sieverodonetsk, returned home .
“I need to know he’s alive. That’s why I’m staying here,” said Lvova, 66.
On Saturday, people who managed to flee Lysychansk described intensified shelling, particularly over the past week, which made it impossible for them to leave basement bomb shelters at all.
Yanna Skakova said she left town on Friday with her 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons. She cried as she sat on a train bound for western Ukraine. She said her husband stayed behind to take care of their home and animals.
“It’s too dangerous to stay here now,” she said, wiping away her tears.
A nearly three-month-long siege of Mariupol ended last week when Russia claimed full control of the city. Mariupol has become a symbol of mass destruction and human suffering, as well as Ukrainian determination to defend the country.