- Fierce street fighting for key eastern industrial city
- Ukraine troops outnumbered, will not surrender-Zelenskiy
- Eastern front under constant shelling
- Efforts to evacuate thousands
KYIV, June 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops were engaged in fierce street fighting with Russian soldiers in the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, in what is a pivotal battle in the Kremlin’s attempt to control the eastern Donbas region.
Sievierodonetsk has become the main target of the Russian offensive in the Donbas, comprising Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, as the invasion grinds on in a war of attrition that has seen cities laid waste by artillery barrages.
“In the city, fierce street fighting continues,” Ukraine’s president said in his nightly video address on Monday.
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“They outnumber us, they are more powerful,” Zelenskiy told reporters at a briefing. But Ukraine’s forces have “every chance” of fighting back, he added.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia was also throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture the largest remaining Ukrainian-held city in Luhansk.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said earlier on Monday the situation had worsened after Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend as they seemed close to victory.
In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Monday and that Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports. Russia denies targeting civilians in the conflict.
Russia says it is on a mission to “liberate” the Donbas – partly held by separatist proxies of Moscow since 2014 – after Ukrainian forces pushed its troops back from the capital Kyiv and Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv in the war’s early stages.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, but calls its action a “special military operation” to stamp out what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to grab territory that risks turning into a wider European conflict.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Monday that Russian forces were also advancing towards Sloviansk, which lies about 85 km (53 miles) to the west of Sievierodonetsk.
“The front line is under constant shelling,” Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian television.
“The enemy is also shelling near Lyman with the aim of wrecking our defensive positions and advancing on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. There is also shelling of Svyatohirsk with the same aim.”
Kyrylenko said efforts were underway to evacuate people from several towns, some under day and night attack, including Sloviansk which has about 24,000 residents still there.
“People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,” he said.
In a move coordinated with the United States, Britain said it would supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can strike targets up to 80 km (50 miles) away, providing the more precise, long-range firepower needed to reach Russian artillery batteries, a…