Ukrainian soldiers are fighting one of the “toughest battles” since the start of the war in Severodonetsk to counter Russian forces that now control much of this strategic eastern city, where President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the “fate” of the Donbass region plays out.
“We are defending our positions, inflicting significant losses on the enemy. This is a very difficult, very difficult battle, probably one of the most difficult in this war,” the President of Ukraine said in a video released on Wednesday evening.
For Russia, taking possession of this city would be crucial to conquering the entire vast coal basin of Donbass, which has already been partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
“In many ways, the fate of our Donbass is being decided there,” Zelensky said.
A few hours earlier, the governor of the Lugansk region, Sergei Gaidai, confirmed that Moscow forces “control most of Severodonetsk.”
“The industrial zone is still ours, there are no Russians there. Fights are only on the streets inside the city,” he said.
The nearby city of Lysichansk is completely controlled by the Ukrainian army, but it is under “heavy and chaotic” bombing, Gaidai said, accusing Russian forces of “deliberately” targeting hospitals and distribution centers for humanitarian aid. “They are shooting from large-caliber weapons, the destruction is huge,” he added.
– “No one will help me” –
Earlier in the day, Gaidai acknowledged that Ukrainian forces “may have to withdraw” from Severodonetsk.
Moscow’s forces have been moving very slowly so far, and Western analysts say the Russian invasion launched on February 24 has turned into a war of attrition, with limited gains coming at the cost of massive destruction and heavy casualties.
While many civilians evacuated Severodonetsk and Lysichansk, a few thousand remained there – the elderly, the people caring for them, or those who could not afford to go anywhere else.
“Every day there is bombing, every day something is on fire,” testifies Yury Krasnikov, who is sitting in the area of Lisichansk with many destroyed buildings and burnt pavilions, and artillery thunders nearby.
“I have no one to help,” laments the pensioner, who feels abandoned.
Faced with troop pressure in Moscow, Ukrainians are repeating that they urgently need more powerful weapons.
Washington and London have announced the delivery of multiple launch rocket systems with a range of about 80 km, slightly more than Russian systems, but it is not clear when the Ukrainians will be able to start using them.
So far, they have been content with short-range Western weapons.
– “Hunger Wave” –
More than 100 days after the Russian offensive, the consequences of the war in the world continue to worsen both in terms of finances and in terms of food and energy, affecting 1.6 billion people, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Wednesday.
“The impact of the war on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe and accelerating.”
“For people around the world, war threatens to unleash an unprecedented wave of hunger and suffering, leaving in its wake social and economic chaos,” Guterres warned.
“There is only one way to stop this brewing storm: stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
The blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea Fleet, starting with Odessa, the country’s main port, is paralyzing its grain exports, especially wheat, which it was before the war on its way to becoming the world’s third-largest exporter. .
The countries of Africa and the Middle East will be the first to suffer and fear serious food crises.
According to the President of Ukraine, from 20 to 25 million tons are currently blocked, the number of which may triple “by autumn” and reach 75 million tons.
While Moscow blames the West for causing this shortage due to their sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss “safe maritime corridors” that allowed to resume grain transportation in the Black Sea. .
– Rapid rise in inflation –
At the request of the UN, Turkey offered assistance in escorting sea convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines.
During the press conference, Mr. Lavrov assured that Russia “is ready to guarantee the safety of ships leaving Ukrainian ports (…) in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues.”
For Mr. Cavusoglu, Moscow’s request to lift sanctions that indirectly affect its agricultural exports to facilitate Ukrainian exports was “legitimate.”
He specifically mentioned Russian exports of “grains and fertilizers”, which are not directly targeted by Western sanctions, but are in fact hindered by the suspension of banking and financial exchanges.
The rise in prices also hit Russia hard, where inflation soared to a 20-year high. However, in May it began to decline, according to official data, still reaching 17.1% per year.
For their part, the sanctions imposed on Moscow are wiping out 15 years of Russia’s economic progress and three decades of integration with the West, the Institute for International Finance (IFF) said in a report Wednesday.
The IIF predicts the Russian economy will shrink by 15% this year and another 3% in 2023.
The war has forced some 6.5 million Ukrainians to flee their country and caused thousands of deaths: at least 4,200 civilians, according to the latest UN estimate, which puts the real numbers “significantly higher,” and thousands of soldiers, even if belligerents rarely report their losses.