Ukraine has vowed to do “everything” to protect Donbass, where a fierce Russian attack has prompted Kiev’s forces to consider a strategic retreat from some key areas to avoid a siege.
Russia is waging an all-out war for the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, including Donbass – the country’s industrial hub – where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of carrying out “genocide.”
In his daily address to the Ukrainians, President Zhelensky said that the Russians had “concentrated most stockpiles in the highest cannon, the Donbass.”
“There are missile strikes and air strikes – everything,” he said.
“We are defending our land the way our current defense system allows,” he added. “We’re doing everything we can to raise them.”
Pro-Russian separatists said on Friday they had seized the town of Lyman, between Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk, a road leading to key cities still under Kiev’s control.
Russian forces are also entering Severodonetsk and Lysichansk in the Lugansk province, with conflicting reports about the extent of their progress.
Regional Governor Sergei Gade insisted that Russian forces would not be able to occupy the entire region in two to three days – but said that Ukrainian troops might have to withdraw from some areas to avoid a siege.
“Probably they (Lugansk) will not occupy, because there is enough power and means to hold the defense,” he said in a telegram.
“Our troops may be instructed to retreat to avoid siege.”
Severodonetsk is “now under siege” and Ukrainian troops will no longer be able to leave the city, a Lugansk police official was quoted as saying by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti.
Alexander Struk, a senior city official, denied this, although he acknowledged that the situation was “very difficult” due to the incessant bombings.
“People are willing to risk everything to get food and water,” said Alexander Kozir, head of Lisichansk’s main aid distribution center.
“They are so psychologically depressed that they are no longer afraid. They just think about finding food.”
Russia seized control of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the port cities of Kherson and Mariupol, on February 24, three months after Russia began its aggression, killing thousands on both sides and expelling 6.6 million people.
Although Ukraine’s defense system is effective overall, Russian forces have gained steady, growing strength in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine over the past few days, says the US-based Institute for the Study of War.
To further help Ukraine fight the onslaught, Washington was preparing to send advanced long-range rocket systems, according to US media reports.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm plans to supply the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) to Ukraine, a highly mobile system capable of firing up to 300 kilometers (186 miles), which Kyiv said it needed.
“We are still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield,” he said.
Referring to the rocket system, Mikhail Podoliak, an adviser to President Zelensky, said on Twitter that some of the country’s partners “avoid providing the necessary weapons for fear of being overtaken. Growth, really?”
In a landmark move against Russia’s spiritual authority, the Moscow branch of Kiev’s Orthodox Church said Friday it was severing ties with Russia over its attack on Ukraine, declaring it “full independence.”
A church council that focused on Russia’s “aggression” has condemned the belligerent stance of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Church spokesman Archbishop Clement told AFP: “Not only has he (Kirill) failed to condemn Russia’s military aggression, but he has also failed to find a voice for the suffering people of Ukraine.”
Ukraine has been under Moscow’s spiritual leadership since at least the 17th century, but a section of its Orthodox Church severed ties with Moscow in 2019 to annex Russian Crimea and support separatists in the Donbass.
Trying to create international pressure on Russia, Zelensky will speak to EU leaders at an emergency summit on Monday as they try to agree on a ban on Russian oil, which is maintained by Hungary, which has close ties to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Instead of continuing to trade with (Russia), we have to work until they stop their policy of aggression,” Zelensky told an Indonesian think tank.
But in Moscow, Finance Minister Anton Silvanov said the country expects to receive one trillion rubles ($ 15 billion) in additional oil and gas revenues this year, a storm from sharp rise in oil prices due to Ukraine’s aggression.
When his navy besieged Ukrainian ports, Putin also denied allegations that he was using food shortages as a weapon. Russia and Ukraine supply about 30 percent of the world’s wheat.
Russia has tightened its own exports and Ukraine has blocked large quantities of storage, increased prices and reduced availability for importers around the world.
According to the Kremlin, in a call with Austrian Chancellor Carl Nehamar on Friday, Putin blamed “the United States and the European Union for other things, including anti-Russian sanctions.”
He also accused Kiev of “sabotaging” the talks and called on Ukraine to deactivate ports to allow ships carrying grain “as soon as possible”, the Kremlin said.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)