Russian forces are close to capturing the eastern Ukrainian capital, Severodonetsk, on Wednesday, but Kiev hopes to deter their attackers by promising a more advanced US rocket system to help them defend themselves.
Sergei Gade, governor of the Lugansk region, said the Russians had taken control of 70 percent of the main industrial center, while Ukrainian forces had withdrawn to a ready position.
“If in two or three days, the Russians take control of Severodonetsk, they will place artillery and mortars and bomb Lisichansk more intensely,” he said in a telegram to the Ukrainian-occupied city.
Ukraine successfully prevented Russia from occupying Kyiv after its February 24 invasion, but the previous operation had a high cost, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying 60 to 100 soldiers die every day.
“The situation in the East is very difficult,” Zelensky told US newsgroup Newsmax.
With only one pocket of resistance left in the eastern Lugansk region, Severodonetsk has become the target of huge Russian firepower.
Oleksandr Motuzianik, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said fighting was raging on the streets of Severodonetsk and that the Russians had reached the city center.
“Ukraine’s armed forces are actively resisting them,” he said.
As an incentive for the Ukrainian military outside, President Joe Biden has confirmed that long-range weapons are on the way.
The new weapon is the Himmars Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS, a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
They are the focus of the $ 700 million package unveiled Wednesday that includes air-surveillance radar, more javelin short-range anti-tank rockets, artillery ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and spare parts.
– ‘Fuel in the fire’ –
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused Washington of “adding fuel to the fire”, saying weapons would not encourage Kiev to resume peace talks.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says Ukraine has vowed not to attack Russia – and has rejected suggestions that it blame Washington for escalating tensions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Simply put, the best way to avoid tensions is to stop Russia’s aggression and war,” Blinken told reporters.
He promised that the United States would continue to support Ukraine, and that there were no signs of Russia retreating.
“We can assess now. We are still looking forward to many months of conflict,” he said.
While some analysts have suggested that Himers could be a “game-changer”, others warn that they should not be expected to turn the tables abruptly, at least because Ukrainian troops need time to learn how to use them effectively.
However, after 96 days of fighting, their morale may improve.
“If you know you have a heavy weapon behind you, everyone’s spirits will rise,” a Ukrainian fighter on the frontline told AFP before the announcement.
– ‘Negative Consequences’ –
Elsewhere, a missile struck a transport infrastructure near the relatively stable western city of Lviv, injuring two people, regional governor Maxim Kozitsky said.
AFP reporters in the town of Sloviansk, west of Severodonetsk, saw buildings destroyed in a rocket attack that killed three and injured six.
And on Wednesday, at least one person was killed and two others were injured in a landslide between Sloviansk and Severodonetsk, AFP reported.
The European Union also sent arms and cash to Ukraine as it imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow.
Germany said on Wednesday it would provide an air defense system capable of protecting a major city from Russian airstrikes, although it would take months to get to the frontline.
European Union leaders this week agreed to ban most Russian oil imports but reduced the likelihood of a Russian gas shutdown on which many member states rely heavily.
Moscow says a “reorganization” is under way to find an alternative destination for its oil, as it has gone “to reduce the negative consequences.”
Sanctions are biting – a panel of investors said Wednesday that Russia has failed to deposit 1.9 million in a sovereign bond.
And Russian energy giant Gazprom says its gas exports to countries outside the former Soviet Union have fallen by more than a quarter year-on-year between January and May after losing many European clients.
– Denmark joins EU defense –
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked a rethinking of security for many Europeans, with Finland and Sweden reluctant to join NATO.
Denmark, a founding member of NATO, went one step further on Wednesday with an overwhelming vote to join the European Union’s general defense policy.
“Tonight Denmark has sent a very important signal. To our allies in Europe and NATO and to Putin,” said Danish Prime Minister Mate Fredericksen.
“We are showing that when Putin invades an independent country and threatens Europe’s stability, we unite with others,” he said.
Russia’s invasion has killed thousands of people and displaced millions of Ukrainians, but there is also the risk of a global food crisis.
Ukraine – one of the world’s major producers – will probably export half of what it exported in the previous season, the Ukrainian Grain Association said.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis appealed against the use of grain as a “weapon of war.”
And already in Glasgow, the Ukrainian national team played its first official match since the Russian invasion, beating Scotland 3-1, setting the World Cup play-offs against Wales.
Reflecting on the views of many, Army serviceman Andrew Verres, 44, said he hoped to win.
“It’s very important today for the country, for all the people, for the fans and for those who aren’t,” he told AFP in Kiev.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)