Russia takes small cities, aims to widen east Ukraine battle

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Russia said on Saturday that its troops and separatist fighters have occupied an important railway junction in eastern Ukraine, a small town second to Moscow’s military this week, as they sought to seize all of the country’s disputed Donbass region. fought for.

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Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the city of Lyman was “completely liberated” by a combined force of Russian troops and Kremlin-backed separatists, who have been waging war in the eastern region bordering Russia for eight years. .

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Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Lyman had a population of about 20,000, which serves as a regional railway hub. Ukraine’s train system has taken out weapons and civilians during the war, and it was not immediately clear how the development might affect any capability.

Controlling the city would give the Russian army a foothold to advance on the large Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up the Donbass.

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Since failing to capture Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Russia has focused on capturing the last parts of the separatist-controlled territory.

The British Defense Ministry said in Saturday’s assessment, “If Russia is successful in capturing these areas, it will be seen by the Kremlin as a genuine political achievement and the Russian people will be portrayed as justifying the invasion.” “

Fighting continued on Saturday around Svyarodonetsk and nearby Lisichansk, the twin citations that are the last major area under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated that the situation was “difficult” in the east, but expressed confidence that his country would win. “If the occupiers think that Lyman or Svyerodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian, ”he said.

On Tuesday, Russian troops occupied Svitlodarsk, a small municipality south of Svyarodonetsk that hosts a thermal power station, intensifying efforts to encircle and capture the large city.

The governor of Luhansk warned that Ukrainian troops might have to retreat from Svyarodonetsk to avoid encirclement.

The advance of the Russian military raised fears that residents would experience the same horrors as people in the weeks before the collapse in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.

The mayor of Svyarodonetsk, Oleksandr Streik, said on Friday that about 1,500 civilians had died during the war, including due to a lack of medicine or diseases that could not be treated, while the city was under siege.

Before the war, Svierodonetsk was home to about 100,000 people. About 12,000 to 13,000 live in the city, where 90% of buildings are damaged, the mayor told the Associated Press. Ukraine’s police force said Saturday afternoon that the city was “constantly under enemy fire” and civilians were wounded, but did not specify the number.

South of Svyarodonetsk, volunteers worked to evacuate people on Friday amid an alarming soundtrack of air raid sirens and fast-moving artillery. AP journalists watch elderly and sick citizens bundled in soft stretchers and slowly walking down the stairs of an apartment building in Bakhmut, a city in northeastern Donetsk province.

Svetlana Lvova, the manager of the two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to persuade reluctant residents to leave, but said she and her husband would not evacuate until their son, who was in Sverodonetsk, returned home. “I want to know that he is alive. That’s why I’m staying here,” said 66-year-old Lvova.

The nearly three-month siege of Mariupol ended last week when Russia claimed full control of the city. The city became a symbol of mass destruction and human suffering, as well as of Ukrainian determination to defend the country. It is feared to have killed more than 20,000 civilians.

Mariupol’s port reportedly resumed operations after Russian forces cleared mines in the Azov Sea, away from the once vibrant city. Russian state news agency Tass reported that a ship bound for the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don entered the Mariupol port early Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Navy said on Saturday morning that Russian ships “continue to block civilian navigation in the waters of the Black and Azov seas” along Ukraine’s southern coast, “making them a zone of hostilities.”

The war in Ukraine has caused a global food shortage as the country is a major exporter of grain and other commodities. Moscow and Kyiv have alleged that it was responsible for keeping the shipment afloat, with Russia saying Ukrainian sea mines prevented a safe passage.

The Ukrainian Naval Forces Press Service said in a Facebook post that two Russian missile carriers “capable of carrying up to 16 missiles” were ready for action in the Black Sea. It said only shipping routes established through multilateral treaties can be considered safe.

Ukrainian officials put pressure on Western countries for more sophisticated and powerful weapons, especially multiple launch rocket systems. The US Defense Department would not confirm Friday’s CNN report, which said the Biden administration was preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that providing rockets to reach his country would represent “one of the most serious steps towards unacceptable growth”.
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He spoke in an interview with RT Arabic that aired on Friday.

In Russia on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that raises the age limit for Russian military contracts. Contractors can now first enter service until age 50 and work until the legal retirement age, which is 65 for men and 60 for women. Previously, Russian law set the age limit for signing the initial contract at 40 for Russians and 30 for foreigners.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Russian Navy successfully launched a new hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea. The recently developed Zircon hypersonic cruise missile hit its target about 1,000 km away, the ministry said.

If confirmed, the launch could spell trouble for NATO’s voyages in the Arctic and North Atlantic. The Zircon, which has been described as the world’s fastest non-ballistic missile, can be equipped with conventional or nuclear warheads, and is said to be impossible to intercept with existing anti-missile defense systems.

Moscow’s claim, which could not be immediately verified, came a week after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia would build new military units in the country’s west in response to Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO.

Putin marked the annual Border Guard Day by congratulating members of the Russian service. “The tasks you are facing now are especially important given the unprecedented political, economic and informational pressure on our country and the building of NATO military capacity on Russia’s borders,” Putin said.

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