KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (Associated Press) – The Russian-hit eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk looked poised to become another Mariupol on Monday, with the mayor telling the AP that Russian troops entered, electricity and communications were cut off and “the city was completely destroyed.”
Moscow seeks to capture the entire Donbass industrial region of Ukraine, and Severodonetsk is the key to this. Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told the Associated Press in a phone interview that fierce street battles are underway in the city as Ukrainian defenders try to dislodge the Russians. He said that the Russian forces advanced a few blocks towards the city center.
“The number of casualties is increasing every hour, but we are unable to count the dead and wounded amid the street fighting,” the mayor added. He said that between 12,000 and 13,000 civilians have left the city, which previously housed more than 100,000, taking shelter in basements and bunkers to escape Russian bombing.
Russian forces stormed Severodonetsk after trying unsuccessfully to encircle it, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation as “indescribably difficult”. A Russian artillery barrage destroyed critical infrastructure and damaged 90% of buildings. The mayor estimated that 1,500 civilians have been killed in the city since the war began, due to Russian attacks as well as from lack of medicine or treatment.
The city of Severodonetsk, 143 km south of the Russian border, has emerged in recent days as a fighting center in the Donbass. Mariupol is a city on the Sea of Azov that spent nearly three months under a Russian siege before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.
The Ukrainian military said that Russian forces had reinforced their positions in the northeastern and southeastern outskirts of Severodonetsk and brought additional equipment and ammunition for their offensive.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haiday said the Russians were moving towards nearby Lysechansk. He said that two civilians were killed and five others were wounded in the latest Russian bombing in the area war.
Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk stretch on the strategically important Siverskiy Donetsk River. It is the last of the major Ukrainian-controlled areas of Luhansk, which together with the neighboring Donetsk region make up the Donbass.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, has questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of assembling a massive military effort to seize Severodonetsk, saying it was too costly for Russia and would bring little revenue.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told France’s TF1 on Sunday that “Moscow’s unconditional priority is the liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” adding that Russia considers them “two independent states.” He also suggested that other regions of Ukraine would be able to establish close relations with Russia.
The Ukrainian military reported heavy fighting around Donetsk, the regional capital, as well as Lyman in the north, a small city that serves as a major railway hub in the region. “The enemy is strengthening its units,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said. “It’s trying to gain a foothold in the area.”
Authorities in a Russian-backed separatist region said at least five civilians were killed in the latest Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk, including a 13-year-old child.
Zelenskyy on Monday will speak European Union leaders meeting In a new show of solidarity with Ukraine, amid divisions over whether to target Russian oil in a new series of sanctions. He has repeatedly demanded that the EU target Russia’s lucrative energy sector and deprive Moscow of billions of dollars a day in supply payments.
On Sunday, Zelensky visited soldiers in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, where Ukrainian fighters drove Russian forces from nearby positions several weeks ago. Russia continued its bombardment of the northeastern city, and explosions were heard shortly after Zelensky’s visit. Shelling and airstrikes have destroyed more than 2,000 apartment buildings since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, according to the region’s governor, Oleh Sinihopov.
In the wider Kharkiv region, Russian forces still control about a third of the territory, Zelensky said.
Russian pressure also continued in the south on Monday. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said that artillery shelling on the shipyard in the southern port of Mykolaiv destroyed Ukrainian armored vehicles parked on its territory.
In the Kherson region, the deputy head of the Russian-appointed regional administration Kirill Strimosov told the Russian state news agency TASS that grain from last year’s harvest is being delivered to Russian buyers, adding that “it is clear that there is a lot of grain here.” Ukraine accused Russia By looting grain from territory controlled by its forces, the United States alleged that Moscow was endangering global food supplies by preventing Ukraine from exporting its crop.
In Mariupol, on Sunday, an aide to the mayor of Ukraine claimed that after Russian forces took control of the entire city, they collected the bodies of the dead inside a supermarket. Petro Andryushchenko posted a photo on the messaging app Telegram showing corpses piled next to closed supermarket counters. It was not immediately possible to verify his claim.
Yuras Kermano reported from Lviv. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of Ukraine’s war on https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine