Russia Closes in on Ukraine’s Industrial Donbas Region

POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russian and Ukrainian troops traded blows in fierce close-quarter combat Sunday in an eastern Ukrainian city as Moscow’s soldiers, supported by intense shelling, attempted to gain a strategic foothold to conquer the region. Ukraine’s leader also made a rare frontline visit to Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, to assess the strength of the national defense.

Officials from Ukraine said that Russian troops stormed Sievierodonetsk, the eastern part of the city. They had failed to secure the crucial strategic location. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation there as “indescribably difficult,” with a relentless Russian artillery barrage destroying critical infrastructure and damaging 90% of the buildings.

“Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a principal task for the occupation force,” Zelensky said, adding that the Russians don’t care about casualties.

The city’s mayor said the fighting had knocked out power and cellphone service and forced a humanitarian relief center to shut down because of the dangers.

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There were fears that Sieverodonetsk might become Mariupol. This is a seaside city that was under Russian occupation for nearly three months before being liberated by the last Ukrainian fighters.

Sievierodonetsk, located 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of the Russian border, has emerged in recent days as the epicenter of Moscow’s quest to capture all of Ukraine’s eastern industrial Donbas region. Russia has intensified its efforts to capture Lysychansk nearby, in which civilians ran to flee persistent shelling.

They are situated along the Siverskiy Donetsk River. These are the most important areas that remain under Ukrainian control in Luhansk Province, which includes the Donbas and the Donetsk regions.

Zelensky, in the meantime, visited Kharkiv’s soldiers after Russian fighters drove them back to their positions several weeks prior.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President, presents a medal to a woman serving in the military during his visit to Kharkiv on May 29, 2022.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP

“I feel boundless pride in our defenders. Every day, risking their lives, they fight for Ukraine’s freedom,” Zelensky wrote on the Telegram messaging app after the visit.

Russia has kept up its bombardment of the northeastern city from afar, and explosions could be heard shortly after Zelensky’s visit. Oleh Syiehubov the regional governor said that more than 2 000 apartment buildings were destroyed in the area by both airstrikes as well as shelling, since Russia invaded Ukraine.

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In a video address later Sunday, Zelensky praised Kharkiv regional officials but said he had fired the regional head of the country’s top security agency, the SBU, for his poor performance. Zelensky stated that Russian troops held only one-third the territory in the Kharkiv region.

Russia has refocused its efforts on taking control of Donbass after it failed to seize Kyiv (the capital of Ukraine), and is now focused on pro-Moscow separatists.

Russia shifts its attention to Donbas

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told French TF1 television Sunday that Moscow’s “unconditional priority is the liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” adding that Russia sees them as “independent states.”

In Luhansk, constant Russian shelling has created what provincial governor Serhiy Haidai called a “severe situation.”

“There are fatalities and wounded people,” he wrote on Telegram. One civilian died, and four people were wounded when a Russian missile struck an apartment building high up.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of assembling a huge military effort to take Sieverodonetsk, saying it was proving costly for Russia and would bring few returns.

“When the battle of Sieverodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back,” the institute said late Saturday.

On the 93rd Day of Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Firemen put out the fires in a gypsum plant.

Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images

In Mariupol on Sunday, an aide to its Ukrainian mayor alleged that after Russia’s forces gained complete control of the city, they piled the bodies of dead people inside a supermarket. The aide, Petro Andryushchenko, posted a photo on the Telegram messaging app of what he described as a “corpse dump” in the occupied city. It featured bodies placed alongside closed counters at supermarkets.

“Here, the Russians bring the bodies of the dead, which were washed out of their graves during attempts to restore the water supply, and partially exhumed. They just dump them like garbage,” he wrote.

Unfortunately, it was not possible immediately to confirm his claims.

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Overnight, renewed Russian airstrikes decimated entire regions of Ukraine. Fighters fought for control over villages and cities in eastern Donetsk.

Heavy fighting took place around Donetsk’s provincial capital and Lyman to North, which is also a city that acts as an important rail hub for the Donetsk area. Moscow claimed to have captured Lyman on Saturday, however Ukrainian officials said that their fighters were still engaged in fighting in some parts of the city.

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