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Russian Advance into Ukraine’s Donetsk Thwarted So Far, Kyiv Says

Russian Advance into Ukraine’s Donetsk Thwarted So Far, Kyiv Says

Wednesday, 6 July, 2022 - 16:45
Smoke rises after shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine July 6, 2022. (Reuters)

Ukraine has so far thwarted an attempted Russian advance into the north of its Donetsk region, but the city of Sloviansk and other populated areas there were being pounded by artillery and missiles, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.

Russia and separatist proxies were already in control of the southern part of Donetsk province when they largely completed the seizure of the neighboring Luhansk region on Sunday with the capture of Lysychansk, much of which now lies in ruins.

Moscow says fully pushing the Ukrainian military out of both regions is central to what it calls its "special military operation" to ensure its own security, a more than four-month-long offensive that the West calls an unprovoked war.

Donetsk and Luhansk provinces comprise the Donbas, the eastern, heavily industrial region of Ukraine that has become the biggest battlefield in Europe for generations and over which Russia wants to wrest control for separatists it supports.

Ukrainian officials reported heavy fighting as Russian forces tried to push southwards into Donetsk from Luhansk and towards Sloviansk.

"We are holding back the enemy on the (Luhansk/Donetsk) border," Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian TV.

He said Russian regular and reserve forces had been sent there in an apparent effort to cross the Siverskiy Donets river and that two small settlements just inside Luhansk's boundary witnessed fierce fighting.

"Luhansk region even now is fighting. Almost all the territory has been captured, but in two settlements fighting is ongoing," Gaidai told a video briefing.

Gaidai and other Ukrainian officials have said Russian forces are hammering targets inside Donetsk with missiles.

Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Lyakh told a video briefing the city had been shelled for the last two weeks.

"The situation is tense," he said, speaking a day after local officials said Russian forces struck a market and a residential area in Sloviansk and killed at least two people.

He said 17 residents had been killed there since President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russia's defense ministry says it does not target civilians and on Wednesday said it was using high-precision weapons to take out military threats.

It said it had destroyed two advanced US-made HIMARS rocket systems and their ammunition depots in the Donetsk region. Ukraine dismissed the assertion as false and said it was using HIMARS to inflict "devastating blows" on Russian forces.

Russia's invasion has killed thousands, displaced millions and flattened cities. It has also raised global energy and food prices and the specter of famine in poorer countries as Ukraine and Russia are both major grain producers.

'No safe areas'

To the south, the port city of Mykolaiv was also being heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, told a briefing. Russian forces, he said, were using multiple launch rocket systems to pound the city, which had shed about half of its pre-war population of half a million.

"There are no safe areas in Mykolaiv," he said. "I am telling the people...that they need to leave."

In Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk that Russian forces are expected to try to capture in coming weeks, Ukrainian soldiers and a handful of civilians ran errands in green-painted cars and vans on Wednesday. Much of the population has left.

"It’s almost deserted. It’s spooky," said Oleksandr, a 64-year-old retired metal worker.

He was unlikely to follow official advice to evacuate, he said, despite an increase in missile strikes on the city. "I’m not looking for death but if I encounter it it’s better to be at home," he said.

A group of artillerymen, who declined to give their names, were smoking outside a bar. They said it would make their lives easier if civilians evacuated front-line cities.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, in the northeast but outside the Donbas, was also being subjected to "constant" longer-range Russian shelling, with several buildings destroyed overnight, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Ukrainian TV.

"Russia is trying to demoralize Kharkiv but it won't get anywhere," he said. Ukrainian defenders pushed Russian armored forces well back from Kharkiv early in the war, and Terekhov said around one million residents remained there.

Russia says it was forced to try to demilitarize Ukraine after the West ignored its pleas to guarantee that its fellow former Soviet republic and neighbor would not be admitted to NATO. Moscow says it also had to root out what it said were dangerous nationalists and protect Russian speakers.

Ukraine and its Western backers say Russia's stated aims are a pretext for an unprovoked, imperial-style land grab.

In a sign that Moscow is not preparing to wind down its operation anytime soon, Russia's parliament on Wednesday rushed through bills requiring businesses to supply goods to the armed forces and obliging employees at some firms to work overtime.

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