Russian missiles rained down Saturday on cities across Ukraine, as troops moved deeper into Severodonetsk, one of the last cities in the breakaway eastern region of Luhansk it had not taken in the four months since its invasion, and where hundreds of civilians remain trapped in a chemical plant.
Reports said Russian soldiers were moving into areas of the city where Ukrainian troops were pulling out, following orders Friday to leave the besieged city after taking heavy casualties in street fighting for days.
All bridges to the city have been destroyed by Russian troops, along with most of the city’s infrastructure, the BBC reported.
Hundreds of civilians were trapped in a chemical plant with sprawling underground structures outside of Severodonetsk. Shells continued to pound the plant Saturday, the Kyiv Independent reported, citing the regional governor, Serhiy Haidai. Estimates put the number of people sheltering in the plants sprawling underground between 500 to 800.
The local news outlet also reported an overnight airstrike that was launched from Belarus, Russia’s ally. “According to Ukraine’s defense intelligence, it was the first airstrike on Ukraine conducted directly from the territory of Belarus, and Russia’s ‘provocation’ to draw Belarus into its war against Ukraine,” the Kyiv Independent said.
The missiles from Belarus hit targets across Ukraine.
Russians also shelled the city of Lysychansk, the “twin city” of Severodonetsk, which appears to be the only part of the eastern Luhansk region still standing against the invasion. That’s a key development because Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified the invasion with claims that he is protecting the people of Luhansk — a mainly Russian-speaking region where Kremlin-backed fighting has been ongoing since 2014 — from genocide.
Together with the Donetsk province, it makes up the area called the Donbas, which Putin claimed as Russian territory as the invasion began.
Ukraine’s defense ministry described to the south and southeast of the cities as the “hottest sector of the front,” the BBC reported.
The UK Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian troop reconfiguring came as “Russian armored units continue to make creeping gains on the southern edge” of the area.
Putin “has highly likely removed several generals from key operational command roles,” including the commander of its airborne forces and commander of the southern forces, Alexandr Dvornikov. “Dvornikov was also for a time probably acting as over-all operational commander,” the ministry said in a Twitter post.
Separately, Russia claimed its troops have killed up to 80 Polish fighters in the Donetsk region, The Telegraph reported.
“Up to 80 Polish mercenaries, 20 armoured combat vehicles and eight Grad multiple rocket launchers were destroyed in precision strikes on the Megatex zinc factory in Konstantinovka” in the Donetsk region, it quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying in a statement, which could not be independently verified. It did not say when the strike took place.
While Ukranian troops were exiting some areas, the country has already deployed US-supplied HIMARS rocket systems against targets in Russian-occupied sectors, the country’s top general said on Saturday.
“Artillerymen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine skillfully hit certain targets – military targets of the enemy on our, Ukrainian, territory,” Chief of Ukraine’s General Staff Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app.
Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted a thanks to the US for the weapons. “We’re grateful to [The US president] and the American people for the decision to provide another $450 million defense aid package to Ukraine,” he wrote. “This support, including additional HIMARS, is now more important than ever. By joint efforts we will free Ukrainian land from the Russian aggressor!”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s largest LGBTQ rights event, KyivPride, joined Warsaw’s yearly Equality Parade, the largest gay pride event in central Europe, with the goal of using it as a platform to keep international attention focused on the Ukrainian struggle.
“We are marching for political support for Ukraine, and we’re marching for basic human rights for Ukrainian people,” KyivPride director Lenny Emson said. “It is not a celebration. We will wait for victory to celebrate.”
With Post Wires