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Ukraine has to cede an important battlefield city

#Ukraine #cede #important #battlefield #city

Ukrainian forces on Friday prepared to withdraw from the strategic city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fierce fighting, a setback that could pave the way for Russia to seize more of eastern Ukraine.

The announcement comes shortly after the European Union granted Ukraine candidate status in a show of support for the former Soviet republic, although membership is still a long way off.

Russia has focused its offensive on the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine after being repelled by the capital Kyiv and other areas in the first weeks of the February invasion. Since then, their forces have made gradual advances, although they have met stiff resistance and suffered heavy casualties.

The industrial center of Severodonetsk was the scene of weeks of street battles in which weak-armed Ukrainians stubbornly put up a fight.

But Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region, which includes Severodonetsk, said Ukrainian forces in the city had received orders to withdraw.

“It just doesn’t make sense to stay in positions that have been under constant shelling for months,” he said on Telegram, adding that 90 percent of the city had been damaged.

The head of Severodonetsk’s military administration, Roman Vlasenko, told Radio Svoboda that the Ukrainian army was still in the city and that they “would need some time to withdraw”.

The capture of Severodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk would effectively give the Russians control of Lugansk and allow them to advance further into wider Donbass.

But Ukraine’s withdrawal from Severodonetsk will not change the course of the war, said Ivan Klyszcz, a researcher in international relations at Estonia’s University of Tartu.

“The overall picture – a slow war between entrenched positions – has changed little. We cannot expect a massive Russian breakthrough,” he told AFP.

– Lysychansk under fire –

Gaiday said the Russians were now advancing on Lysychansk, which was facing increasingly heavy bombardment.

The situation for those who remain in the city is grim.

Liliya Nesterenko, who cycled to a friend’s house to feed her pets, said her house had no gas, water or electricity, forcing her and her mother to cook over campfires.

But the 39-year-old was upbeat about the city’s defences: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (can) handle it.”

Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed Lugansk army, told Telegram on Friday that all villages in the neighboring areas of Zolote and Hirske are now under the control of Russian or pro-Russian forces.

In a video on Marochko’s Telegram channel, a man in military fatigues could be seen replacing a Ukrainian flag with a Zolote coat of arms with a red hammer and sickle flag.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that up to 2,000 people near Zolote and Hirske were “completely blocked” and that about half of Zolote was under Russian control.

– missiles hit university –

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

An AFP team at the scene heard powerful explosions in the city center Thursday night and saw in the morning that the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute had been hit by rockets, windows shattered and the roof partially collapsed.

According to an unidentified military official at the scene, “the Russians thought there might be something military there, but it wasn’t.”

In the southern Kherson region, a Moscow-appointed official was killed by an explosive device planted in his car, Russian news agencies reported.

Moscow’s deputy head of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said the regional head of the family, youth and sports department died “as a result of a terrorist attack”.

It was the first confirmed death of a pro-Russian official during a string of attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.

While Ukraine has pleaded for accelerated arms shipments, the United States said it would send another $450 million in fresh weapons, including HIMARS missile systems capable of firing multiple longer-range missiles.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared in a video at Britain’s famed Glastonbury music festival on Friday, urging revelers to “spread the truth about Russia’s war” and help Ukrainian refugees.

– “Future Equal EU Partner” –

At a Brussels summit on Thursday, EU leaders granted candidate status to both Ukraine and Moldova in what Zelenskyy called a “unique and historic moment”.

“Today it is recognized that Ukraine is not a bridge, not a cushion between the West and Russia, not a buffer between Europe and Asia, not a sphere of influence,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to Ukrainians on Friday.

“Ukraine is a future equal partner for at least 27 EU countries,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Ukraine’s new EU candidate status as an “internal European matter” – despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fierce opposition to what Moscow sees as attempts to bring the country into NATO.

But Ukraine’s NATO aspirations are still a long way off and EU membership is at least years away.

Western officials also reiterated allegations that Russia is arming its key gas and grain exports from Ukraine.

Economics Minister Robert Habeck told Der Spiegel magazine on Friday that his country would face “difficult social decisions” in the event of a gas shortage.

“If there isn’t enough gas, some industries that need gas will have to shut down,” Habeck said.

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