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Russian troops move to encircle strategic city in eastern Ukraine

Patrick J. McDonnell and Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

KYIV, Ukraine — As the conflict in Ukraine enters its fourth month, Russian troops appear to be on the cusp of a breakthrough in the disputed Donbas region, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warning of difficult weeks ahead and accusing Moscow of waging “total war” against his country.

Russian forces have launched a concerted campaign to encircle Severodonetsk — the last major city in Luhansk province and easternmost point of the Donbas still under Ukrainian control — along with its sister city, Lysychansk, just to the south. If successful, the move would trap Ukrainian troops defending the area and open Russia’s path to Kramatorsk, the Ukrainian government’s main administrative and military node in the east.

By Tuesday morning, after days of withering artillery duels along the eastern front, Russian troops were reported to have seized portions of Lyman, a town roughly 30 miles west of Severodonetsk, and blitzed into the village of Zolote, about nine miles south of Lysychansk. Those attacks and a Russian stab from north of Severodonetsk form a three-pronged offensive to take the city.

“The intensity of fire on Severodonetsk has increased by multiple times — they are simply destroying the city,” Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a TV interview. He echoed Zelenskyy’s overnight address to the nation, which accused Russian forces of “trying to destroy all living things” in the east.

“Literally. Nobody destroyed Donbas as the Russian military does now,” Zelenskyy said.

At the same time, authorities in Mariupol, which Russia now controls in its most significant gain of the war, announced the gruesome discovery of 200 bodies in the basement of a collapsed apartment building, according to The Associated Press. The decimated southern city has endured some of the worst suffering of the war.

 

Zelenskyy also cited a Russian missile barrage that struck the village of Desna last week in northern Ukraine, killing 87 people in one of the war’s deadliest single attacks, as he appealed for more arms from the U.S. and other supportive nations.

“Every time we tell our partners that we need modern anti-missile weapons, modern combat aircraft, we are not just making a formal request,” he said. “We say that our request is the real lives of many people who would not have died if we had received all the weapons we are seeking.”

Other Ukrainian officials also urged a speedup in arms deliveries.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Tuesday that Russian airstrikes destroyed a depot in the Donbas used to store U.S.-produced M777 Howitzer artillery shells. Washington has fast-tracked deliveries of the artillery in recent weeks as part of a larger lend-lease program to Ukraine aimed at countering Russia’s invasion.

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