KYIV | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the east of the country for the first time since Russia’s invasion on Sunday, as Moscow forces tighten their grip on major cities in the Donbass region.
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In images posted on the internet by the Ukrainian presidency, we can see President Zelensky, wearing a bulletproof vest and surrounded by armed soldiers, visiting the rubble of destroyed buildings in and around Kharkiv (northeast), the country’s second largest city.
“2,229 houses destroyed in Kharkiv and the region. Let’s restore, rebuild and bring life back. In Kharkiv and in every other city and village where evil has come,” he said on Telegram.
“In this war, the occupiers are trying to achieve any result. But they must have understood long ago that we will defend our land to the end. They don’t stand a chance. We will fight and we will win,” Zelensky said.
Meanwhile, Russian forces, who had withdrawn from the Kharkiv region and moved south, advanced towards the relentlessly bombed major cities of Severodonetsk and its twin city Lyssychansk in the Donbass.
The situation in Lyssychansk “has worsened a lot”, assured Sunday in the Telegram Serguiï Gaïdaï, the governor of the Lugansk region, which with Donetsk forms the Donbass.
“A Russian shell fell into an apartment building, a girl died on the spot and four people were hospitalized,” he said.
In Severodonetsk, “the enemy carried out assault operations”, according to a report by the General Staff of the Ukrainian army. According to Governor Gaïdaï, the assault continues in the city with street fights.
More than three months after the start of the war launched by Moscow on February 24, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a telephone interview, to start “serious negotiations direct talks.” ” with your Ukrainian. counterpart.
Putin assured his side that Russia remains “open to resuming dialogue” with Kyiv to resolve the conflict.
“The next week will be very difficult”, admitted Governor Gaïdaï on Saturday, assuring, however, that Russian forces “will not be able to achieve everything they plan in the near future”.
“The Russians have brought a lot of resources to take the city by storm, but they still can’t do it,” said Severodonetsk Mayor Olexander Stryuk. “We think the city will resist.”
He warned of the worsening health situation in this city that had 100,000 inhabitants before the war. The “constant bombings” greatly complicate supplies – especially drinking water – to the city, which has been without electricity for more than two weeks, he wrote in his Telegram account on Saturday night.
In a statement released Sunday morning, the Russian Defense Ministry said the Russian army had destroyed “a large arsenal of the Ukrainian armed forces with high-precision long-range missiles” in the Dnipropetrovsk region (southeast).
These missiles also hit in the last 24 hours a Ukrainian air defense system near Mykolayevka in the Donetsk region, a radar station in the Kharkiv region and five ammunition depots, including near Severodonetsk, according to the same press release. .
In Soledar, close to the front lines, residents live in fear and resignation. “Where can I run? They shoot from everywhere, wherever you go,” Valentyna Pavlenko, 69, told AFP.
Lyssychansk and Severodonetsk, key cities in eastern Ukraine located on both sides of the Siversky Donets River, are threatened with siege by Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists seeking to establish full control over the Donbass mining basin.
The leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, said for his part on Saturday night on Telegram that “Severodonetsk is under our complete control … The city has been liberated.”
A little further west, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed on Saturday the acquisition of the key location of Lyman, which paves the way for the large Donbass cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
The commander of the armed forces of Russia’s Central Military District, General Alexandre Lapin, on Sunday praised “the courage and heroism” of Russian soldiers who participated in the capture of Lyman.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian army indicated that the regrouping of Russian forces “is getting stronger” in this sector.
President Zelensky acknowledged this week that “the situation in this region of Donbass (was) very, very difficult” with intense artillery and missile attacks. But he felt that “if the occupiers think that Lyman and Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. The Donbass will be Ukrainian.”
against the flood
While Ukraine, a major agricultural power, can no longer export its grain due to the blockade of its ports, Vladimir Putin assured, during his conversation with his French and German counterparts, that his country was “ready” to help an “unimpeded” export. of grain from Ukraine.
“Russia stands ready to help find options for unhindered grain exports, including Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports,” according to a Kremlin statement.
For Putin, the difficulties related to food delivery were caused by “a wrong economic and financial policy of Western countries, as well as the anti-Russian sanctions” imposed by those countries.
In Brussels, a meeting of EU officials is scheduled for Sunday to discuss a solution to unblock the 6th package of EU sanctions against Russia, whose flagship measure is an oil embargo until the end of the month.
These new sanctions are currently blocked by Hungary, a landlocked, landlocked country dependent on oil brought in from Russia via the Druzhba pipeline, which supplies 65% of its consumption.