KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — As Russia made strides towards its goal of seizing all of embattled eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin on Saturday sought to shake European resolve to punish his country with sanctions and continue to supply weapons that could defend the country supported Ukraine.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Lyman, the second small town to fall to Russia this week, was “completely liberated” by a joint force of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists who have been at war for eight years the industrial Donbass region on the border with Russia. It was
Ukraine’s train system has been transporting weapons and evacuating citizens through Lyman, a major rail hub in the east of the country. Controlling it would also give Russia’s military another foothold in the region; It has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Seversky Donets River, which has hitherto impeded Russian advances into the Donbass.
The Kremlin said Putin held an 80-minute phone call with leaders of France and Germany on Saturday, in which he warned of the continued transfers of Western arms to Ukraine and blamed Western sanctions for disrupting the world’s food supply.
According to the Chancellor’s spokesman, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops. Both urged Putin to start serious direct negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to end the fighting, the spokesman said.
A Kremlin advertisement of the phone call between Macron, Putin and Scholz said the Russian leader reiterated “the openness of the Russian side to resuming dialogue.” The three leaders agreed to stay in touch, the ad said.
But Russia’s recent advances in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up Donbass, may give Putin further encouragement. After Russia failed to occupy Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, it has set out to seize the last parts of the region not controlled by the separatists.
“Should Russia manage to take over these areas, it would most likely be seen by the Kremlin as a major political achievement and presented to the Russian people as justification for the invasion,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Russia has intensified efforts to capture the larger cities of Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, which are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province. Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as “difficult”, but was confident that his country would prevail with the help of Western weapons and sanctions.
“If the occupiers think they will own Lyman or Sievierodonetsk, then they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” he said.
The Luhansk governor reported that Ukrainian fighters repelled an attack on Sievierodonetsk, but Russian troops still pushed to encircle them. Later on Saturday, Governor Serhii Haidai said on Ukrainian television that the Russians had seized a hotel on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said Friday that about 1,500 civilians in the city with a pre-war population of about 100,000 died there during the war, partly due to a shortage of medicines or diseases that could not be treated.
The advance of Russian forces raised fears that residents would experience the same horrors as those in the southeastern port city of Mariupol in the weeks leading up to the fall. Residents who had not yet fled were faced with the choice of risking it now or staying behind.
A little south of Sievierodonetsk, AP reporters saw elderly and sick civilians wrapped in soft stretchers and slowly carried down the stairs of a residential building in Bakhmut, a town in north-eastern Donetsk province on Friday.
Svetlana Lvova, the manager of two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to persuade 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 increased shelling, especially over the past week, that made it impossible for them to exit basement bomb shelters.
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 house and animals.
“It’s too dangerous to stay there now,” she said, wiping away tears.
A nearly three-month siege of Mariupol ended last week when Russia claimed complete control of the city. Mariupol became a symbol of mass destruction and human sufferingand the Ukrainian determination to defend the country.
The port of Mariupol has reportedly resumed operations after Russian forces finished clearing mines in the Sea of Azov off the once-busy city. Russian state-run news agency Tass reported that a ship bound for the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don entered the seaport of Mariupol early on Saturday.
The Kremlin said Putin stressed to Macron and Scholz that Russia is working to “build peaceful life in Mariupol and other liberated cities in Donbass.”
Ukrainian authorities have reported that Kremlin-installed officials in captured cities have started broadcasting Russian news programs, introduced Russian area codes, imported Russian school curricula and taken other steps to annex the territories.
Russian territories in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region have switched to Moscow time and “will no longer switch to daylight saving time, as is customary in Ukraine,” Russian state agency RIA Novosti quoted Krill Stremousov, a Russian-appointed local official, as saying say as Saturday.
The war in Ukraine has caused food shortages around the world as the country is a major exporter of grain and other commodities. Moscow and Kyiv exchanged allegations about which side was responsible for detaining supplies at ports, with Russia saying Ukrainian sea mines are preventing safe passage and Ukraine citing a Russian naval blockade.
The press service of the Ukrainian Naval Forces said that two Russian missile carriers “capable of carrying up to 16 missiles” are operational in the Black Sea. Only shipping routes that have been defined by multilateral agreements are to be regarded as safe.
As Ukraine tries to repel the Russian invasion, officials in the country are urging Western nations for more sophisticated and powerful weapons. The US Department of Defense declined to confirm a CNN report Friday that said the Biden administration was preparing to send long-range missile systems to Ukraine.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov on Saturday branded such a move as “unacceptable” and urged the Biden administration to “give up statements about Ukraine’s military victory.”
A Telegram post published on the Russian embassy’s official channel quoted Moscow’s top diplomats in Washington as saying: “The unprecedented pumping of arms into Ukraine greatly increases the risk of the conflict escalating.”
Moscow is also trying to scare Sweden and Finland’s determination to join NATO. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its navy successfully launched a new hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea. The ministry said the recently developed Zircon hypersonic cruise missile hit its target about 1,000 kilometers away.
If confirmed, the launch could spell trouble for NATO voyages in the Arctic and North Atlantic. Described as the world’s fastest non-ballistic missile, Zircon can be armed with either a conventional or nuclear warhead and is said to be impossible to stop with current missile defense systems.
Moscow’s claims, which could not be immediately verified, came a week after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Russia would form new military units in the west of the country in response to Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO.
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