KYIV | Ukraine claims to have pushed back Russian forces in Severodonetsk, a key city in the Donbass region where Moscow is concentrating its offensive in the hope of taking full control.
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After 100 days of war, Russia claims to have fulfilled some of the objectives of the “special military operation” it launched to “denazify” Ukraine and protect its Russian-speaking population. “Victory will be ours,” however, retorted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday in a video where he appears in front of the presidential administration building in Kyiv with several of his collaborators.
After having been defeated in front of Kyiv, the Russian army is now concentrating its efforts in the Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, relentlessly looting certain cities including Severodonetsk, the subject of a fierce battle for weeks. It is in this region that a long-term “war of attrition” is now being played out, warned NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
According to the Ukrainian presidency, fighting raged Friday morning in the city center. "The Russian invaders continue to bomb civilian infrastructure and the Ukrainian army in the areas of Severodonetsk, Borivsky and Lyssychansk," she said.
But far from winning, Russian forces are still unable to fully take control of this city, according to Kyiv. The capture of this city would allow them to ensure their hold on the Donbass, a mining basin partially occupied by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
flood of fire
The Russian soldiers were even forced to retreat, said Serguiy Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region, on Friday. “They didn’t fully capture it. And if before, we had a difficult situation with about 70% (of the city) captured, currently they have been pushed back by 20%,” he said, despite a deluge of fire.
“They bombard our positions for hours, then they send a company of freshly mobilized soldiers, they die, they understand then that there are still hotbeds of resistance, and they start bombarding again. This is what is happening in the fourth month” of war, explained Mr. Gaïdaï.
And like the Ukrainian president, he calls for heavy weapons to, he says, push back Russian artillery away from Ukrainian positions, and avoid what happened in Mariupol. This strategic port on the Sea of Azov (southeast) conquered on May 20 was devastated by the bombardments.
"During these hundred days (of war), the occupying forces have almost reduced Mariupol to ashes," denounced Friday its mayor Vadym Boychenko. Result: "more than 22,000 civilians killed, 1,300 buildings destroyed and 47,000 people deported to Russia" or to territories under the control of pro-Russian separatists, he said.
Russian forces are also heavily bombarding the Donetsk region, including Sloviansk, some 80 km west of Severodonetsk. Residents of the region lack gas, water and electricity, according to Kyiv.
Resistance in Kherson
In the South, the Ukrainians are worried about a possible annexation of the regions conquered by the Russian forces, Moscow evoking referendums on the subject as early as July. But according to the southern command of the Ukrainian armed forces, the Russians meet very strong resistance from the population.
"The occupiers are afraid of the growing resistance within the local population in the region of Kherson", the first Ukrainian city of importance conquered at the beginning of the invasion by the Russian forces, affirmed in the night from Friday to Saturday the southern command.
Since the invasion of Ukraine launched just a hundred days ago by Vladimir Putin, his army has tripled the portion of Ukrainian territory it controls: with the Crimean peninsula and the occupied territories of Donbass and southern Ukraine, Russia now controls almost 125,000 km2, according to President Zelensky.
On the diplomatic front, the 27 EU countries painfully approved on Thursday a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow including an embargo, with exemptions, on oil purchases, which will be effective within six months.
The text was published on Friday in the Official Journal and officially entered into force.
"European consumers will be the first to suffer from this decision (...) I do not exclude that there is a large deficit of petroleum products in the EU", affirmed the Russian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the 'Energy, Alexander Novak.
Concern is also growing over grain supplies, with the United Nations claiming to be negotiating with Moscow to allow their export.
“I am optimistic that something could give way,” said Amin Awad, UN coordinator for Ukraine, who said he hoped for a “breakthrough”.
The UN is concerned about the risks of crisis, particularly in Africa, which imports more than half of its cereals from Ukraine and Russia. Their price in Africa has already exceeded the levels reached during the Arab Spring crises in 2011 or during the food riots in 2008.
Worries brushed aside by Vladimir Putin. “There is no problem exporting cereals from Ukraine,” he said in a television interview, referring to several ways to export them through Ukrainian ports, others under Russian control, or through the Central and Eastern Europe.
The current president of the African Union (AU) and Senegalese head of state Macky Sall said he was "reassured" on Friday after his meeting with the Russian president.
“We leave here very reassured and very happy with our exchanges,” Mr. Sall told reporters after the meeting in Sochi (southern Russia), adding that he found the Russian president “committed and aware that the crisis and the sanctions are creating serious problems for weak economies, such as African economies”.