Strikes hit factory full of civilians: Ukraine

Ukrainian General Valeriy Zaluzhniy on Friday urged his US counterpart to increase arms in order to keep up with Russia and stabilize the situation in Luhansk

Russia yesterday launched artillery and airstrikes on the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, hitting a chemical plant where hundreds of civilians were trapped, a Ukrainian official said.

The governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai said that Russian forces attacked the Sievierodentsk industrial zone and also tried to enter and blockade Lysychansk.

“There was an air raid on Lysychansk. Sievierodonetsk was hit by artillery,” Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk and the villages of Synetsky and Pavlograd and others were shelled.

Photo: AP

He made no mention of casualties at the Azot chemical plant, and Reuters was unable to immediately verify the information.

Haidai said 17 people were evacuated from Lysychansk on Friday by police officers, rescuers and volunteers.

Ukraine said on Friday its troops had been ordered to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk, a key battlefield city, as there was little left to defend after weeks of intense fighting.

“During the last one [several] Days ago an operation to withdraw our troops was carried out,” spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard Kharatin Starskyi said yesterday.

Starskyi, who had been in Sievierodonetsk, said on television in the morning that the flow of information about the withdrawal was delayed in order to protect the ground forces.

The pullout marks the biggest turning point for Ukraine since losing the southern port of Mariupol last month.

News of Friday’s withdrawal came exactly four months to the day since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops across the border, sparking a conflict that had killed thousands, uprooted millions and reduced entire cities to rubble.

Recent Russian advances appeared to bring the Kremlin closer to taking full control of Luhansk, one of Moscow’s stated war aims, and set the stage for Lysychansk to become the next main battleground.

Vitaly Kiselev, an official at the Interior Ministry of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic – recognized only by Russia – told the Russian news agency TASS that it would take another week and a half to gain full control of Lysychansk.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, but abandoned an early advance on the capital, Kyiv, in the face of fierce resistance, reinforced by Western arms.

Since then, Moscow and its proxies have focused on the south and Donbass, an eastern area made up of Luhansk and its neighbor Donetsk, using overwhelming artillery in some of the heaviest ground fighting in Europe since World War II.

Russia yesterday launched renewed missile attacks on military and civilian infrastructure in the north, near Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv, to Sievierodonetsk in the east, Ukraine’s chief of staff said.

Shell attacks on cities across Ukraine were reported yesterday by several regional governors.

Russia denies attacking civilians, but Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.

Ukraine again pushed for more weapons, with the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, telling his US counterpart in a phone call on Friday that Kyiv needs “fire parity” with Moscow to stabilize the situation in Luhansk.

South of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian soldiers also retreated from the towns of Hirske and Zolote in the face of overwhelming Russian forces, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

He said that the Ukrainian military learned the hard lesson of trying to defend positions at all costs during fighting with pro-Russian forces in 2014.

“Now for the first time we have a precedent where our boys have retired in an orderly fashion,” he said in a video posted online.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba downplayed the importance of the possible loss of more territories in Donbass.

“Putin wanted to occupy Donbass by May 9th. This is us [there] on June 24 and still struggling. Retiring from a few battles in no way means losing the war,” he said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

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