Russian offensive turns to key Donbass city, heavy shelling

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians dug in to defend the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk as it came under heavy shelling from Russian forces attempting to take the industrial zone known as Donbass.

Monday in Tokyo, President Joe Biden, meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, thanked Japan for its strong leadership in resisting Russia as the two united in condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the beginning of his trip to Asia, Biden signed a law give Ukraine an additional $40 billion in US support for its defense against Russian attack.

As Russian and Ukrainian forces battled along a 551-kilometer (342-mile) corner of eastern Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Polish President Andrzej Duda visited Kyiv on Sunday to back aspirations of Ukraine to the European Union and addressed the Ukrainian parliament.

Duda received a standing ovation when he thanked lawmakers for letting him speak where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beat”.

Ukraine does not have to give in to pressure from Russia and elsewhere in Europe, Duda said. “I want to say clearly: only Ukraine has the right to decide its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.

Duda, a right-wing populist leader who clearly favored former US President Donald Trump over Biden in the 2020 election, nevertheless said that “kyiv is the place where it is clear that we need more America in Europe, both in the military and in this economic dimension.

Poland has become an important ally of Ukraine, hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees and becoming a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons and a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight. Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Duda’s visit, his second since April, “a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built in blood, by Russian aggression.” All this so as not to lose our State, so as not to lose our people.

Zelenskyy urged the 27 EU members to speed up his country’s application for membership. It is to be discussed at a summit in Brussels at the end of June.

On the battlefield, fierce town-by-town fighting continued as Russian troops tried to expand territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014 in Donbass, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk.

Sievierodonetsk is the main city under Ukrainian control in the province of Luhansk, whose governor Serhii Haidai accused the Russians of having “simply intentionally tried to destroy the city…to engage in a scorched earth approach”.

Haidai said the Russians had occupied several towns and villages in Lugansk after 24-hour indiscriminate shelling and were concentrating forces and weapons there, bringing in troops from Kharkiv in the northwest, Mariupol in the south and from the interior. of Russia.

The only operating hospital in Sievierodonetck has only three doctors and supplies for 10 days, he said.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces failed to attack Oleksandrivka, a village outside the city.

To strengthen its defenses, the Ukrainian parliament voted on Sunday to extend martial law and mobilize its armed forces for the third time, until August 23.

Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Zelenskyy told a news conference on Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently every day, in the is.

In a morning report from the General Staff, Russia said it was preparing to resume its offensive on Sloviansk, a town in Donetsk province that saw heavy fighting last month after troops withdrew from Moscow from kyiv.

The conflict is not limited to eastern Ukraine. Powerful explosions were heard early Monday in Korosten, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of kyiv, the city’s deputy mayor said. It was the third consecutive day of apparent attacks in Zhytomyr district, Ukrainian news agencies reported.

In the Russian town of Enerhodar, 281 kilometers (174 miles) northwest of Mariupol, an explosion on Sunday injured the Moscow-appointed mayor at his residence, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Ukraine’s Unian news agency said a bomb planted by “local partisans” injured Andrei Shevchuk, 48, who lives near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest.

Also on Monday, a Ukrainian court was due to deliver a verdict on the first Russian soldier to be tried for an alleged war crime. The 21-year-old sergeant, who admitted shooting a Ukrainian man in the head in the Sumy region on February 28, could face life in prison if convicted.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said her office was pursuing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting.

In other developments, the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, gave a rare interview to the national television channel ICTV alongside her husband and said that she had hardly seen him since the start of the war.

“Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is separated now,” she said, adding that she spoke to him mainly by phone.

“Unfortunately, we can’t sit together, have dinner with the whole family, talk about everything,” she said.

Zelenskyy called the interview itself a “date on the air” and the couple, who have two children, joked in front of reporters.

“We are joking, but we are really waiting, like everyone else, to be reunited, like all the families in Ukraine who are separated now, waiting for their relatives and friends who want to be together again,” he said.


Becatoros reported from Donetsk. Associated Press reporters Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv and other AP staff from around the world contributed.


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Elena Becatoros, Oleksandr Stashevskyi and Ricardo Mazalan, The Associated Press