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Russians “occupy” Severodonetsk completely, shift focus to Lysychansk

#Russians #occupy #Severodonetsk #completely #shift #focus #Lysychansk

The Russian army has “completely occupied” Ukraine’s key city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fighting, its mayor said, as Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to send nuclear-capable missiles to Belarus within months.

As the war enters its fifth month, the capture of Severodonetsk marks an important strategic victory for Moscow, which is attempting to seize full control of the country’s east after failing in its early objectives.

The industrial center was the scene of weeks of skirmishes before the Ukrainian army began withdrawing its outnumbered forces to better defend the neighboring city of Lysyhansk.

“The city was completely occupied by the Russians,” Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said on Saturday.

A few hours earlier, pro-Moscow separatists said Russian troops and their allies had entered Lysyhansk, which faces Severodonetsk on a hill across the Donets River. Its conquest would give Russia control of the entire Lugansk region of the Donbas.

“Street fights are taking place right now,” a separatist representative, Andrei Marochko, said on Telegram in a claim that could not be independently verified.

Meanwhile, far from the embattled Donbass, a barrage of Russian missiles attacked targets in northern and western Ukraine.

“More than 50 missiles of various types were launched: airborne, seaborne and ground-launched,” Ukraine’s Air Force Command said Saturday, noting the difficulty in intercepting Russian models like the Iskander.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is set to address G7 leaders on Monday, said cities as far away as Lviv near the Polish border were hit.

“This confirms … that Ukraine needs more support with weapons and that air defense systems – the modern systems that our partners have – should not be on the bases or in storage but in Ukraine,” he said in his daily address.

– Dress in Belarus –

Putin said in Saint Petersburg on Saturday that Russia will supply Belarus with Iskander-M missiles capable of transporting nuclear warheads in the coming months, while he hosted Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

In comments aired on Russian television, he also offered to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them nuclear-capable.

Putin has referred to nuclear weapons several times since his country’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which the West sees as a warning to the West not to intervene.

Ukraine said it came under “massive bombardment” on Saturday morning from neighboring Belarus, which despite being a Russian ally is not officially involved in the conflict.

Twenty rockets “launched from the territory of Belarus and from the air” were aimed at the village of Desna in the northern Chernihiv region, Ukraine’s Northern Military Command said.

Infrastructure was said to have been hit, but no casualties had yet been reported.

Belarus has provided Moscow with logistical support since its invasion on February 24, especially in the first few weeks, and like Russia has been the target of Western sanctions.

“Today’s strike is directly related to the Kremlin’s efforts to draw Belarus into an ally in the war in Ukraine,” Ukrainian intelligence said.

– “Ukraine can win” –

Russia’s breakthrough over the weekend in Severodonetsk came on the eve of a week of feverish Western diplomacy, as US President Joe Biden flew to Europe for a G7 summit that begins Sunday and NATO talks later in the week.

“Ukraine can win and will win, but it needs our support to do so,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement on the eve of the summit.

“Now is not the time to give up on Ukraine.”

Western allies will take stock of the effectiveness of sanctions hitherto imposed on Moscow, consider possible new aid to Ukraine, and begin to move on to longer-term recovery plans.

The European Union on Thursday gave a strong sign of its support by granting Ukraine candidate status, despite the long road to membership.

– Evacuation of the Azot plant –

As before in the southern port of Mariupol, the Battle of Severodonetsk devastated the city.

On Saturday, Mayor Striuk said civilians had begun to evacuate the Azot chemical plant, where several hundred people were hiding from the shelling.

“These people spent almost three months of their lives in basements and makeshift shelters,” he said. “It’s emotionally and physically tough.”

They would now need medical and psychological support, he added.

Pro-Moscow separatists said Russian forces and their allies had taken control of the Azot factory and “evacuated” more than 800 civilians who were sheltering there.

Since 2014, the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass has been partially under the control of pro-Moscow separatists, who have established self-proclaimed breakaway republics in Lugansk and Donetsk.

– “Finishing what they started” –

While millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and country since the invasion, most to neighboring Poland, some foreigners have gone the other way to fight.

Russia said on Saturday its troops had killed up to 80 Polish militants in strikes against a factory in Konstantinovka in the Donetsk region, a claim that could not be verified.

Russia has also intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days.

An AFP team on Saturday saw a 10-story administration building in the city center hit by rockets overnight, causing a fire but no casualties.

It had already been bombed, leading one soldier on the scene to state, “The Russians are finishing what they started.”

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#Russians #occupy #Severodonetsk #completely #shift #focus #Lysychansk

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