Russia launches all-out assault to surround Ukrainian troops in the east

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  • Kharkiv to reopen metro after Russian forces push back
  • Russia tries to surround Ukrainian troops in the Twin Cities
  • Corpses still found in Mariupol under Russian control
  • The home of a pro-Russian leader raided in Moldova

KYIV/SLOVIANSK, Ukraine, May 24 (Reuters) – Russian forces were conducting an all-out assault on Tuesday to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin towns straddling a river in eastern Ukraine, a battle that could determine success or failure. failure of Moscow’s main campaign in the east.

Exactly three months after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces into Ukraine, authorities in his second-largest city, Kharkiv, have reopened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under incessant bombings.

The move was evidence of Ukraine’s greatest military success in recent weeks: pushing Russian forces largely out of Kharkiv’s artillery range, as they did from the capital kyiv in March.

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But the decisive battles of the last phase of the war are still raging further south, where Moscow is trying to seize the Donbass region of two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

The easternmost part of Ukraine’s Donbass pocket, the town of Sievierodonetsk on the eastern bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk on the western bank, became the central battleground there, with Russian forces advancing from three directions to encircle them.

“The enemy has concentrated its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, where the two towns are among the last territories still held by the army. Ukraine.

“The intensity of the fires on Sievierodonetsk has increased several times, they are simply destroying the city,” he said on television, adding that around 15,000 people lived there.

Further west, in Sloviansk, one of the largest cities in the Donbass still in Ukrainian hands, air raid sirens sounded on Tuesday but the streets were still bustling, with a full market, children on bicycles and a street musician playing the violin in a supermarket.

Gaidai said Ukrainian forces drove the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka, just south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian-backed separatists said they had taken control of Svitlodarsk, south of Bakhmut. Neither report could be independently confirmed.

“EVERYONE HAS A CRAZY FEAR”

Three months into a war that some Western experts had predicted Russia would win within days, Moscow still has limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine suffered devastation. About 6.5 million people fled abroad, thousands were killed and cities were reduced to rubble.

The war has also had massive international ramifications, including growing food shortages and soaring prices in developing countries that import Ukrainian grain.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday called for talks with Moscow on unblocking wheat exports now trapped in Ukraine due to a Russian blockade in the Black Sea. Read more

Underscoring global geopolitical tensions sparked by the war, Japan – a key US ally in Asia that has joined Western sanctions against Russia – sent scrambling jets on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese fighter jets approached its airspace during a visit to Tokyo by US President Joe Biden. Read more

In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were still living underground on trains and stations when authorities told them to make way on Tuesday so metro service could resume.

At one station, a few people were moving, while others sat on makeshift beds or stood amid possessions and pets.

“Everyone is madly scared because there is still shelling, rocket attacks have not been stopped,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who lived in an underground subway train for most of the time. of the war.

“STUPID WAR”

Comments from senior Russian officials on Tuesday hinted at plans for a protracted conflict ahead. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately moving slowly to avoid civilian casualties. Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Moscow was not ‘chasing deadlines’ and would fight as long as necessary to root out ‘Nazism’ in Ukraine, a justification for the war the West says is without foundation.

The Donbass fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of the Ukrainian garrison at the port of Mariupol after nearly three months of siege in which kyiv estimates that tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol now operating outside the Russian-held city, said the dead were still being found in the rubble.

About 200 decomposing bodies were buried under rubble in the basement of a high-rise building, he said. Residents had refused to collect them, and Russian authorities had abandoned the site, leaving a stench throughout the neighborhood.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that the “ruthless” offensive in Donbass showed that Ukraine still needed more Western weapons, especially multiple rocket launcher systems, artillery long-range and armored vehicles.

Highlighting the obstacles to a diplomatic resolution to the conflict, a new poll on Tuesday showed that 82% of Ukrainians believe their country should under no circumstances cede territory as part of a peace deal with Russia. Read more

In Russia, where criticism of the war is banned and independent media have been shut down, imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny used a court appearance via video link from a penal colony to denounce the “war stupid that your Putin started”.

“A madman has set his claws in Ukraine and I don’t know what he wants to do with it – this mad thief,” Navalny said.

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Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidiy in Kharkiv and Reuters reporters in Mariupol and Slovyansk; Written by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones; Editing by Nick Macfie, Jon Boyle and Tomasz Janowski

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