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Clashes intensify in two major cities in eastern Ukraine

Clashes intensify in two major cities in eastern Ukraine

BAKHMUT, Ukraine – Block-by-block fighting broke out on Friday in two key cities in eastern Ukraine on Friday, the 100th day of Russia’s war, slowly turning them to rubble.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said fierce battles continued in Sievierodonetsk, where some 13,000 remaining residents took shelter in basements to escape relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian forces recovered 20% of the city’s land that had been taken by Russian troops, he later added.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday that there had been “some progress” in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, but did not elaborate.

Haidai said Russian forces also attacked neighboring Lysychansk. About 20,000 residents remain there – about a fifth of Lysychansk’s pre-war population – although Russian bombing destroyed 60% of residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, officials said. One civilian was killed in the bombing on Friday, Haidai said.

Russian forces are trying to encircle Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the only two cities in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province that are not controlled by Russian forces or Moscow-backed separatists. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces make up the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Russia aims to capture.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia now controls more than 90% of Luhansk and is expected to take it completely within the next two weeks.

But Haidai said the progress made in the past two days showed Ukraine might be able to delay the Russian attack by that period, the deadline for the arrival of new and advanced Western weapons.

Mykola Sunhurovsky of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank, said that due to Ukrainian resistance, the Russian offensive in the region had begun to slow and “they have lost a lot of forces and need a tactical break.”

He said that “time is working in Ukraine’s favor as Western arms supplies are increasing, making the Kremlin nervous.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian troops had succeeded in their stated main task of protecting civilians in separatist-held areas.

Russia controls nearly a fifth of the country, Zelenskyy said this week. But the president remained defiant in a video message marking 100 days of war.

“We have already defended Ukraine for 100 days,” he said. “Victory will be ours!”

In other developments:

— Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed African Union President Macky Sall to talks aimed at getting grain supplies running again. Wheat prices soared because of the war. Russia, the world’s biggest wheat exporter, has urged the West to lift sanctions against its shippers so grain can start flowing freely. Ukraine has blamed the growing global food crisis not on sanctions but on Russia’s bottling of ports Ukraine uses to export grain.

— The European Union has formally approved an embargo on Russian oil. The 27-nation EU said imports of Russian oil would be phased out within six months, and other refined petroleum products within eight months. Landlocked countries that rely on Russian supplies – such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – will receive “a temporary exemption”.

— The EU also imposed another round of sanctions, targeting Russian military officials, including high-ranking officials accused of war crimes in Bucha and during the siege of Mariupol. Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, known as the “Butcher of Mariupol”, was among those on the list.

— German lawmakers approved $107 billion in new spending to strengthen the country’s military, three months after the Russian invasion spurred the government into action. Officials say the German military suffered years of neglect.

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Associated Press editors Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.

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