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Ukraine fears that the Mariupol horrors will be repeated elsewhere in Donbass

Kyiv – Moscow-backed separatists on Friday bombed eastern Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region, claiming to have captured a railroad junction, while Ukrainian officials begged for the sophisticated Western weapons they say they need to stop the attack .

The advance of Russian forces raised fears that cities in the region would suffer the same horrors inflicted on the people of the port city of Mariupol in the weeks leading up to their fall.

Friday’s fight was centered on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. They are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up Donbass where Russian-backed separatists have controlled an area for eight years. According to the authorities, 1,500 people have already died in Sieverodonetsk since the war began three months ago. Russian-backed rebels also said they had taken the Lyman railroad hub.

The Luhansk governor warned that Ukrainian soldiers may have to withdraw from Sieverodonetsk to avoid encirclement. But he predicted an ultimate Ukrainian victory. “The Russians will not be able to capture the Luhansk region in the coming days, as analysts predict,” Serhiy Haidai wrote on Telegram on Friday. “We will have enough forces and means to defend ourselves.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnskyj also struck a defiant note. In his nightly video address on Friday, he said: “If the occupiers think they will own Lyman or Sievierodonetsk, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian.”

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press that “the city is being systematically destroyed – 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”

Striuk described conditions in Sievierodonetsk reminiscent of that battle for Mariupol, is located in the other province of Donbass, Donetsk. The port city, now in ruins, was constantly bombarded by Russian troops in a siege that lasted nearly three months that ended last week when Russia demanded its conquest. More than 20,000 of its civilians are feared dead.

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About 100,000 people lived in Sieverodonetsk before the war. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, Striuk said, huddled in temporary shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine. At least 1,500 people have died there because of the war, which is now in its 93rd day. The number includes people killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile attacks, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated illnesses, lack of medicines or being trapped under rubble, the mayor said.

In the north-eastern quarter of the city, Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups tried to capture the Mir Hotel and the surrounding area, Striuk said.

Evidence of Russia’s strategy for the Donbass can be found in Mariupol, where Moscow is tightening its control through measures such as state-controlled broadcast programs and revised curricula, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.

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General Phillip Breedlove, former head of the US European Command for NATO, said during a panel at the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Friday that Russia “appears to have adjusted its objectives again and it seems scary that they are now trying to that they have to consolidate and enforce rather than focus on expanding it.”

However, this aggressive push could backfire by seriously depleting Russia’s arsenal. Echoing an assessment by the UK MoD, military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russia was fielding 50-year-old T-62 tanks “which means the world’s second army has run out of modernized equipment.”

Russian-backed rebels said Friday they had taken Lyman, Donetsk’s major rail hub north of two other key cities still under Ukrainian control. Ukraine’s presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych acknowledged the loss Thursday night, although a spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry reported on Friday that his soldiers had opposed Russian attempts to drive them out completely.

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As Ukraine’s hopes of halting Russian advances faded, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations for heavy weapons, saying it was the only area where Russia had a clear advantage.

“Without artillery, without multiple missile systems, we won’t be able to push them back,” he said.

The US Department of Defense declined to confirm that CNN report that the Biden administration is preparing to send long-range missile systems to Ukraine, perhaps as early as next week. “Certainly we are aware and aware of Ukrainian requests, private and public, for a so-called multi-launch missile system. And I will not prejudge decisions that have not yet been made,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that providing missiles that could reach his country would represent “an extremely serious step towards an unacceptable escalation”. He spoke in an interview with RT Arabic that aired on Friday.

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Just south of Sievierodonetsk, volunteers hoped to evacuate 100 people from a smaller town. It was an arduous process: many of the Bakhmut evacuees were old or infirm and had to be carried out of apartment buildings on soft stretchers and wheelchairs.

Minibuses and vans sped through the city, loading dozens in for the first leg of a long journey west.

“Bakhmut is currently a high-risk area,” said Mark Poppert, an American volunteer working for British charity RefugEase. “We’re trying to get as many people out as possible.”

Neighboring Belarus to the north, which was used as a base by Russia before the invasion, announced on Friday it would be sending troops towards the Ukrainian border.

In Russia’s Far East, a lawmaker opposed the war in Ukraine in a rare way, calling for an end to the military operation and the withdrawal of Russian troops. “We understand that if our country doesn’t stop the military operation, we will have more orphans in our country,” said the Communist Party’s Leonid Vasyukevich on Friday at a meeting of the Primorsk regional legislative assembly in the Pacific port of Vladivostok.

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His comments, which he addressed to President Vladimir Putin, were shown in a video posted on a telegram. Another deputy followed to support Vasyukevich’s views. But the leader of the Legislative Assembly issued a statement afterwards, calling the comments a “political provocation” that was not supported by the majority of lawmakers.

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Karmanau reported from Lemberg, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Andrew Katell in New York and AP journalists around the world contributed.

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This story has been edited to correct that 1,500 people died in Sievierodonetsk alone, not in the entire Donbass region.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/27/relentless-russia-squeezes-ukrainian-strongholds-in-east/ Ukraine fears that the Mariupol horrors will be repeated elsewhere in Donbass

Sarah Y. Kim

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