KYIV (AFP) -- Ukraine said Monday its forces had been pushed back from the center of key industrial city Severodonetsk, where President Volodymyr Zelensky described a fight for “literally every meter”.
The cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are separated by a river, have been targeted for weeks as the last areas still under Ukrainian control in the eastern Lugansk region.
Regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said Monday Russian forces were “gathering more and more equipment” to “encircle” Severodonetsk, and that they had “pushed our troops from the centre and continue to destroy our city”.
The local Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have reportedly taken refuge, was being “heavily shelled”, Gaiday said.
In Lysychansk, bombardments killed three civilians, including a six-year-old boy, he said.
Severodonetsk had been “de facto” blocked off after Russian forces blew up the “last” bridge connecting it to Lysychansk Sunday, Eduard Basurin, a representative for pro-Russian separatists, said Monday.
“The Ukrainian units that are there, they are there forever. They have two options: to surrender or die,” Basurin said.
On Sunday, Zelensky said the latest fighting in Severodonetsk was “very fierce”, adding that Russia was deploying undertrained troops and using its young men as “cannon fodder”.
Russia’s massed artillery in that region gave it a tenfold advantage, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian military, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said Sunday.
“Every meter of Ukrainian land there is covered in blood -- but not only ours, but also the occupier’s.”
The capture of Severodonetsk would open the road for Moscow to another major city, Kramatorsk, in their steps toward conquering the whole of Donbas, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
Away from the battlefield, World Trade Organization members gathered in Geneva Sunday, with the threat posed to global food security by Russia’s war in wheat-producing Ukraine top of the agenda.
Tensions ran high during a closed-door session, where several delegates took the floor to condemn Russia’s war, including Kyiv’s envoy who was met with a standing ovation, WTO spokesman Dan Pruzin told journalists.
Just before Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov spoke, around three dozen delegates “walked out”, the spokesman said.
On a farm near the city of Mykolaiv in the south, the harvest has been delayed by the need to undo the damage done by Russian troops that passed through the area in March.
“We planted really late because we needed to clear everything beforehand,” including bombshells, Nadiia Ivanova, 42, told AFP.
The farm’s warehouses currently hold 2,000 tonnes of last season’s grain but there are no takers.
The railways have been partially destroyed by the Russian army, while any ship that sails faces the threat of being sunk.
The war has prompted Finland and Sweden to give up decades of military non-alignment and seek to join the NATO alliance.
But Turkey is blocking their bids and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday the issue may not be resolved in time for an alliance summit later this month.
Speaking to AFP, Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia’s prime minister from 2000 to 2004, said he thought President