Ukraine fears Mariupol horrors will be repeated in battered Donbass

LONELY LADY An elderly woman sits on a bench in a playground near a residential building that was damaged by Russian shelling in the Ukrainian town of Moshchun, not far from Kyiv, Friday, May 27, 2022. AFP PHOTO

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Moscow-backed separatists pounded Ukraine’s eastern industrial Donbass region on Friday, claiming to seize a rail hub, as Ukrainian officials pleaded for Western weapons sophisticated weapons they said they needed to stop the onslaught.

The advance of Russian forces has raised fears that towns in the region will suffer the same horrors inflicted on residents of the southern port city of Mariupol in the weeks before its fall.

Friday’s fighting focused on two key towns: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. These are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass and where Russian-backed separatists have already controlled certain territories for eight years.

Authorities say 1,500 people in Sievierodonetsk have died since the invasion began three months ago. Russian-backed rebels also said they had taken the Lyman rail hub.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai warned that Ukrainian soldiers may have to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk to avoid being surrounded. But he predicted that Ukraine would eventually win.

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“The Russians will not be able to capture [the] Luhansk region in the coming days, as analysts predict,” Haidai wrote on the Telegram platform on May 27. “We will have enough forces and means to defend ourselves.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also adopted a defiant tone. In his Friday night video address, he said: “If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian.”

For now, Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press (AP) that “the city is being systematically destroyed – 90% of the city’s buildings are damaged.”

He described conditions in Sievierodonetsk as reminiscent of the Battle of Mariupol, which is in Donbass’ other province, Donetsk. Now in ruins, the city was constantly cordoned off by Russian forces during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week when Russia claimed its capture. It is feared that more than 20,000 of its civilians are dead.

Before the war, Sievierodonetsk was home to around 100,000 people. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, Striuk said, huddled in shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine. At least 1,500 people have died there due to the war, which is in its 93rd day.

This figure includes those killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated illnesses, lack of medicine or to be trapped under the rubble.

Consolidate control

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

Gen. Phillip Breedlove, former head of the US European Command for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), told a panel hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on 27 May that Russia seemed to have “once more adjusted its aims, and with dread it now appears that they are trying to consolidate and enforce the land they own rather than concentrate on expanding it.”

This aggressive push, however, could backfire by seriously depleting the Russian arsenal. Echoing a UK MoD assessment, military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russia was deploying 50-year-old T-62 tanks, “meaning the world’s second-largest army is running out of equipment. modernized”.

As Kyiv’s hopes of stopping the Russian advance faded, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations for heavy weapons, saying it was the only area in which Russia had a clear advantage.

“Without artillery, without multiple rocket launcher systems, we won’t be able to repel them,” he said.

The US Department of Defense has not confirmed a CNN report that US President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, possibly as early as next week. “We are certainly attentive and aware of Ukrainian requests, privately and publicly, for what is called a multiple rocket launcher system. And I will not preempt decisions that have not yet been made,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. .

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned in an interview with RT Arabic broadcast on Friday that the supply of rockets that could reach his country would represent “a most serious step towards an unacceptable escalation”.

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