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  24 Jun 2022, 23:36

Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city

  KYIV, Ukraine, June 24, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Ukrainian forces will retreat from

Severodonetsk after weeks of fierce fighting over the key city, a senior
Ukrainian official said Friday, in a major boost to Russia's goal of seizing
a swathe of eastern Ukraine.


The announcement came shortly after the European Union granted Ukraine
candidate status in a show of support for the former Soviet republic,
although there is still a long path ahead to membership.


Russia has focused its offensive on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine
after being repelled from the capital Kyiv and other areas following the
February invasion. Its forces have gradually made progress despite
encountering fierce resistance and sustaining heavy losses.


"Despite the growing loss of personnel and equipment, Russians continue to
outnumber the (Ukrainian) defence forces in artillery" in certain areas,
Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, Ukraine's defence ministry spokesman, told reporters on
Friday.


"This allows them to gain some tactical success," Motuzyanyk added.


The strategically important industrial hub of Severodonetsk has been the
scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians put up a
stubborn defence.


But Sergiy Gaiday, the governor of the Lugansk region which includes
Severodonetsk, said that Ukrainian military forces in the city had received
an order to withdraw.


"Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just
doesn't make sense," he said on Telegram, adding that 90 percent of the city
had been damaged.


The Ukrainians had already been pushed back from much of the city, leaving
them in control of only industrial areas.


"The Ukrainian army is still in Severodonetsk, it will take them some time to
retire," head of the city's military administration Roman Vlasenko told Radio
Svoboda -- the Prague-based Russian-language wing of the US-funded Radio Free
Europe.


Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would give the
Russians control of Lugansk, and allow them to push further into the wider
Donbas.


- Lysychansk under fire -


Gaiday said the Russians were now advancing on Lysychansk, which has been
facing increasingly heavy Russian bombardment.


The situation for those that remain in the city is bleak.


Liliya Nesterenko said her house had no gas, water or electricity and she and
her mother were cooking on a campfire. She was cycling along the street, and
had come out to feed a friend's pets.


But the 39-year-old was upbeat about the city's defences: "I believe in our
Ukrainian army, they should (be able to) cope."


Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed army of Lugansk said
Friday on Telegram that all the villages in the neighbouring areas of Zolote
and Hirske were now under the control of Russian or pro-Russian forces.


In a video on Marochko's Telegram channel, a man in military clothing can be
seen replacing the Ukrainian flag with the Zolote coat of arms with a red
hammer-and-sickle flag.


Russia's defence ministry said on Friday that up to 2,000 people were
"completely blocked" near Zolote and Hirske, and that around half of Zolote
was under Russian control.


- Missiles hit university -


Russia has also intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in
the past few days.


An AFP team at the scene heard strong explosions in the city centre last
night and in the morning saw that the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute had been
hit by missiles, breaking windows and causing its roof to partially collapse.


According to an unidentified military official at the scene, the Russians
"thought there might be something military in there but there was not".


In the southern Kherson region, a Moscow-appointed official was killed by an
explosive device planted in his car, Russian news agencies reported.


The Moscow-appointed deputy head of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said the
regional head of the department of family, youth and sports had died "as a
result of a terrorist act".


It was the first confirmed death of a pro-Russian official during a string of
attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Ukrainian regions under Russian control.


With Ukraine pleading for accelerated weapon deliveries, the United States
announced it was sending another $450 million of fresh armaments, including
HIMARS rocket systems, which can launch multiple missiles at extended range.


Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Twitter that Ukraine was
"grateful" to US President Joe Biden for the decision.


"This support... is now more important than ever," he said.


Zelensky put in an appearance at Britain's famed Glastonbury music festival
on Friday, urging revellers via videolink to "spread the truth about Russia's
war" and help Ukrainian refugees.


- 'Future equal EU partner' -


At a Brussels summit Thursday, EU leaders granted candidate status to
Ukraine, as well as Moldova.


Zelensky hailed the news as "a unique and historic moment".


"Today it is recognised that Ukraine is not a bridge, not a pillow between
the West and Russia, not a buffer between Europe and Asia, not a sphere of
influence," Zelensky said in a video address to Ukrainians on Friday.


"Ukraine is a future equal partner for at least 27 EU countries," he added.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Ukraine's new EU candidacy status
as a "domestic European affair".


Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly resisted what Moscow sees as
attempts to bring the country into NATO.


But Ukraine's NATO aspirations are far from being realised and EU membership
is at least years away.

 

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