The fate of a key city hangs in the balance as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine – News-Herald

By BERNAT ARMANGUÉ and YURAS KARMANAU

BAKHMUT, Ukraine — Russian forces pounded a town in eastern Ukraine on Thursday and the two sides fought pitched street battles that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says could determine the fate of the critical Donbass region .

Meanwhile, Russia claimed to have struck a training center far from the front lines, west of the capital.

Following a series of setbacks in the 3-month war, Russia has set its sights on the industrial Donbass region of coal mines and factories, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for years and where they already held swaths of territory before the invasion.

But, as elsewhere, the Russian advance was not as swift as expected, and the arduous battle for control of Sievierodonetsk turned into street-to-street fighting that was relatively rare in the conflict.

“Fierce battles are continuing in the city itself, street battles are being fought with varying success in city blocks,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press. “The Ukrainian army is fighting for every street and every house.”

On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said it used air-launched missiles against a Ukrainian military base in the Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, alleging mercenaries were being trained there.

There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian authorities on the Russian claims. Moscow has repeatedly accused Ukraine of using mercenaries in the fighting. Foreigners fought as part of the Ukrainian regular army and some joined volunteer brigades, but it is unclear whether they were mercenaries.

Zhytomyr has periodically come under missile strikes, but the vast majority of fighting and attacks have been concentrated in eastern Ukraine.

Late Wednesday, Zelenskyy called the painstaking, inch-by-inch fight for Sievierodonetsk the “epicenter” of the battle for Donbass and perhaps one of the toughest battles of the war. The city is one of the last to be taken by the Russians from Luhansk, one of the two regions that make up the Donbass.

“In many ways, this is where the fate of our Donbass is decided,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address, which was recorded on the street outside his office in Kyiv.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskyy’s office, said on Tuesday that Russian forces had changed tactics in the battle, retreating from Sievierodonetsk, while pounding it with artillery and airstrikes – with no particular success.

They are also targeting the nearby town of Lysychansk with “day and night shelling”, and are trying to storm the key road linking Lysychansk and Bakhmut in the southwest, he said.

Evidence of the war’s enormous human cost piled up as workers removed up to 100 bodies from every destroyed building in the devastated city of Mariupol – a gruesome effort that one official described as a “caravan of the endless death”.

Petro Andryushchenko, deputy mayor of the Russian-controlled port city, said on the Telegram app that the bodies were being taken to a morgue, dumps and other locations. At least 21,000 Mariupol civilians were killed during the weeks-long Russian siege, Ukrainian authorities have estimated.

Meanwhile, fears of a global food crisis have intensified over Ukraine’s inability to export millions of tonnes of grain through its blocked ports.

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Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine.

Christi C. Elwood