By Natalia Zinets and Jonathan Landay
KYIV/SLATYNE, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region, at the center of recent Russian offensives, has been destroyed, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said as some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged support for kyiv with billions of dollars.
Since turning away from the Ukrainian capital, Russia has been using massive artillery and armor to try to seize more territory in the Donbass, made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Moscow claims in the name of the separatists.
“The occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It’s hell out there – and that’s no exaggeration,” Zelenskiy said in a speech Thursday night.
“(There are) constant strikes on the Odessa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. Donbass is completely destroyed,” he said.
Moscow calls its invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, a claim kyiv and its Western allies see as a baseless pretext for unprovoked war.
Russia has stepped up its offensive and assault operations in Donetsk, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
Five civilians were killed in Donetsk on Thursday, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. “The enemy is destroying all civilian infrastructure even in places relatively far from the front line,” he told local television.
Reuters could not immediately verify the information. Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Last week Russia scored its biggest victory since the invasion began, with kyiv announcing that it had ordered its garrison at a steelworks in Mariupol to withdraw, following a prolonged siege of the city.
Russian forces, however, were pushed back this month from the outskirts of the second-largest city of Kharkiv. Ukraine claims to have taken over 23 settlements near Kharkiv in the past two weeks.
As the invasion nears the three-month mark, the wealthy Group of Seven countries have agreed to provide Ukraine with $18.4 billion to pay its bills. Ukraine said the money would hasten victory over Russia and was just as important as “the weapons you provide”.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters: “The message was, ‘We support Ukraine. We will mobilize with the resources they need to get through this. “”
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal wrote on Twitter: “Support from partners will accelerate our victory…Despite Russia’s efforts to destroy our economy, together we will win!
The United States also said it had authorized $100 million in additional weapons, equipment and supplies for Ukraine. The White House is working to get advanced anti-ship missiles into the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat the Russian naval blockade, officials said.
And in another sign of Western action hurting the Russian economy, five foreign vice presidents of Rosneft Russia have resigned due to EU sanctions barring EU citizens or Russians living in the EU from working. for the oil company, sources said.
The EU has said it is looking for ways to use the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction, while the US has not ruled out the possibility of imposing sanctions on countries that buy Russian oil.
But Western divisions have also been highlighted with NATO member Turkey opposed to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, a move that would reverse generations of military non-alignment in the biggest upheaval in European security in decades.
Ankara accuses the two Nordic states of harboring Kurdish militants, but US President Joe Biden and European leaders have said they are confident Turkey’s concerns can be addressed.
Biden, welcoming Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to the White House, told reporters, “I think everything will be fine.”
Niinisto said Finland would be committed to Turkey’s security, adding, “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and are actively committed to combating it.”
In Mariupol, the ultimate outcome of Europe’s bloodiest battle in decades remained unclear, with uncertainty over the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders.
Moscow said Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered so far, including 771 in the past 24 hours.
Ukrainian officials, who have called for a prisoner swap, declined to comment, saying it could jeopardize rescue efforts.
Late Thursday, Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy chief of the Azov regiment defending the steel plant, released an 18-second video in which he said he and other commanders were still on the plant’s territory.
“There is a certain operation going on, the details of which I will not divulge,” he said.
The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of prisoners from the now Russian-held factory, but it did not give a specific number.
The leader of the Russian-backed separatists who control the region said nearly half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks, where bunkers and underground tunnels had protected them from weeks of Russian bombardment.
“More than half have laid down their arms,” Denis Pushilin told internet TV channel Solovyov Live.
The injured were given medical treatment while those who were fit were taken to a penal colony and were treated well, he said.
Russia denies having accepted a prisoner exchange. Moscow calls the Azov regiment, which has far-right origins, Nazis and says its members must be prosecuted for crimes.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder in Kyiv and a Reuters reporter in Mariupol; Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis)