SOLEDAR | The Russian army tightened its grip on the strategic city of Severodonetsk, in the Donbass, on Thursday on the 99th day of a war which could last "many months" according to Washington.
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After the failure of their lightning offensive to bring down the Kyiv regime, the Russian forces are concentrating on the conquest of the Donbass region, where a war of attrition is now being played out after more than three months of conflict.
And the steamroller tactic applied by Moscow to slowly nibble away at the Donbass seems to be paying off.
"The most difficult situation is in the Lugansk region, where the enemy is trying to dislodge our troops from their positions", according to the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, Valeri Zalouzhny, quoted in an army statement published in Wednesday night through Thursday.
Severodonetsk, the administrative capital of the Lugansk region, is now "80% occupied" by Russian forces and street fighting is raging there, said the governor of the Lugansk region, Serguiï Gaïdaï, on Wednesday night in Thursday.
According to Kyiv, the Ukrainian forces are notably entrenched there in an industrial zone bombarded by the Russians, as at the very end of the long siege of the strategic city of Mariupol (southeast), largely destroyed and conquered by the Russians at the end of April.
Ukrainian leaders have in recent days accused Moscow of wanting to make Severodonetsk a “new Mariupol”.
“The enemy has an operational advantage in terms of artillery,” conceded Valeri Zaloujny during a telephone conversation Wednesday with the French Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Thierry Burkhard, according to Kyiv.
The Ukrainian general pleaded for the delivery as soon as possible to his country of weapons “of the type of those of NATO”. "It would save lives," he said.
Kyiv is notably awaiting deliveries of more powerful missile launcher systems promised by US President Joe Biden, hoping that this will change the military balance of power on the ground.
During the night from Wednesday to Thursday, Russian forces bombed several railway lines in the Lviv region (west), a region where weapons delivered to Ukraine by Western countries arrive in particular, aid denounced by Moscow .
“Liberation” of cereals
To the east, the Donetsk region, which makes up the Donbass with that of Lugansk, is not spared by Moscow, in particular Sloviansk, some 80 km west of Severodonetsk. Residents of the region lack gas, water and electricity in particular, according to Kyiv.
Ukrainian forces are losing up to 100 soldiers every day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told US media Newsmax in an interview published on Wednesday.
"The situation in the east is really difficult (...) We are losing 60 to 100 soldiers a day, killed in action, and some 500 are wounded," he said.
In the south, the Ukrainians are worried about a possible annexation of the regions conquered by the Russian forces, Moscow evoking referendums as early as July with a view to an annexation. The fighting and bombardments continue in particular in the region of Kherson, partly conquered by the Russians and where the inhabitants lack medicine and need humanitarian aid, according to Kyiv.
Westerners are also trying to unblock the Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, in particular that of Odessa (south), the main exit port for the country's agricultural production, to relaunch grain exports, of which Ukraine is one of the major global producers.
At least 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain cannot be exported due to a Russian blockade, raising the risk of a global food crisis.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, current chairman of the African Union (AU), is traveling to Russia on Thursday for talks on Friday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin who invited him to Sochi, his services said in a statement.
The AU thus hopes to "contribute to a lull in the war in Ukraine, and to the release of stocks of cereals and fertilizers, the blocking of which particularly affects African countries", they added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to discuss establishing "safe corridors" for grain transport during a visit to Turkey on June 8, according to Ankara.
Soccer to forget
In Kyiv and its surroundings, which the Russian forces left at the end of March to retreat to the east, activity is picking up again with the gradual return of the inhabitants.
Near the capital, demand “is increasing every week” for the Tsar-Khlib bakery factory, welcomes Oleksandr Tarenenko, director of the Khlibni Investytsiï group which owns it. Despite the war, she never stopped supplying Kyiv with bread.
With a small fraction of its 800 employees, twenty of whom are permanently based in the basement, the factory has reduced its operations but continues to produce 16 tonnes of fresh bread per day compared to 100 before the war.
When the anti-aircraft sirens sound, the workers go to the cellar. The hot loaves then pile up when they come out of the oven.
After pushing Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership, the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to have other geostrategic effects: the Danes thus overwhelmingly voted "yes" on Wednesday in the referendum on an entry of their country in the defense policy of the European Union, after refusing to do so for three decades.
The Ukrainian soccer team also beat Scotland (3-1) on Wednesday evening in a play-off match for the 2022 World Cup, allowing the inhabitants to briefly forget the daily life of the war. Ukraine will get their ticket to Qatar if they beat Wales on Sunday.