Russia currently occupying about 20% of Ukraine, Zelensky says


Updates from Day 99 of the invasion

  • Zelensky says Russia currently occupies about 20 per cent of Ukraine.

  • Severodonetsk in Luhansk continues to take fire, with at least 4 new deaths.

  • Russia says it downed a Ukraine fighter jet in Mykolaiv.

  • NATO’s Stoltenberg in Washington to meet with President Biden.

  • Britain to arm Ukraine with rocket system.

  • Latest U.S. Treasury move targets Putin yachts.

Russian forces were attempting to extend and consolidate their hold on Ukraine’s industrial city of Severodonetsk on Thursday, edging closer to claiming a big prize in their offensive in the eastern Donbas region.

After days of heavy fighting around Severodonetsk, much of which has been laid to waste by Russian bombardment, Russian troops were inching forward through city streets. Ukraine says about 70 per cent of the city is under Russian control, with Russian troops in the city centre.

“The enemy is conducting assault operations in the settlement of Severodonetsk,” Ukraine’s armed forces general staff said on Thursday, adding that Russian forces were also attacking in other parts of the east and northeast.

At least four civilians were killed and 10 wounded in the east and northeast, other officials said.

Russia denies targeting civilians.

WATCH | Mykolaiv, key barrier to Russia advance, quiet and tense: 

Mykolaiv residents on the razor’s edge of Russia’s invasion

For the past three months, the city of Mykolaiv has stood as a barrier between Russian troops in Ukraine’s east and cities like Odesa in the west. Residents are patient, live on the razor’s edge.

Russia is currently occupying about 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Luxembourg’s parliament in a video address on Thursday.

“We have to defend ourselves against almost the entire Russian army. All combat-ready Russian military formations are involved in this aggression,” he said, also noting that the front lines of battle stretched across more than 1,000 kilometres.

Zelensky told a U.S. media outlet earlier this week that Ukraine was losing between 60 and 100 soldiers a day in the fighting.

Civilians in bomb shelters in Luhansk

Luhansk’s regional governor, Serhiy Gaidai, told Reuters that civilians were sheltering from Russian attacks under a Severodonetsk chemical plant that he said was hit by an airstrike on Tuesday, releasing a large pink cloud.

“There are civilians there in bomb shelters, there are quite a few of them left,” Gaidai said. Reuters could not independently confirm the account.

Local residents gather in a bomb shelter in the town of Rubizhne in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

About 15,000 people remained in the city, Gaidai said.

Britain’s defence ministry said in its daily intelligence update Thursday that Russia controlled most of the city, which before the war had a population of about 101,000, and that Ukrainian forces had destroyed bridges over the river to Lysychansk.

Capturing all of Luhansk — one of two provinces in the Donbas along with Donetsk that Moscow claims on behalf of separatists — would fulfil one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main aims and solidify a shift in battlefield momentum after his forces were pushed back from the capital Kyiv and from northern Ukraine.

Donetsk’s governor said Thursday that Russian forces are attempting to advance south in that region towards the key Ukrainian-held cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

“The Lyman and Izyum fronts are the main directions in which the enemy is trying to advance in order to capture the territories of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, [their] key aims in the north of the region,” Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told a briefing.

Kyrylenko also said 340,000 residents remained in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Donetsk region, out of a pre-war population of 1.67 million.

WATCH | War in Ukraine threatens decades of scientific research: 

How the war in Ukraine threatens decades of scientific research

As conflict in Ukraine drags on, scientists and academics seek new homes for their research

Outside of the Donbas, Russia’s defence ministry said on Thursday its military had downed a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet in the Mykolaiv region in south Ukraine.

It also said in a briefing that it had struck command points of Ukrainian forces near Kharkiv in the northeast.

It was not possible to independently confirm the information.

Putin sent his troops over the border on what he called a special military operation on Feb. 24 to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of aggression and the West has imposed stringent sanctions on Russia in a bid to strangle its economy.

Thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine and millions more displaced since the beginning of the invasion, which has also roiled food supply and energy markets. Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key exporter of fertilizer, oil and natural gas.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Oleg Nikolenko, said Kyiv was working with international partners to create a UN-backed mission to restore Black Sea shipping routes and allow the export of Ukrainian farm produce.

Britain to send missiles

Britain said Thursday it will send sophisticated medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says the U.K. will send an unspecified number of M270 launchers, which can send precision-guided rockets up to 80 kilometres

Britain said Ukrainian troops will be trained in the U.K. to use the equipment.

Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces watch the FIFA World Cup qualification soccer match between Scotland and Ukraine on a mobile phone in a Kharkiv shelter on Tuesday. Ukraine defeated Scotland in the match. (Vitalii Hnidyi/Reuters)

Ukraine has implored its Western allies to send longer-range missiles to help it counter Russian artillery assaults in the eastern Donbas region, the focus of Moscow’s offensive.

Britain’s announcement follows fresh military aid packages to Ukraine this week from the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands.

The U.S. announced a $700 million US weapons package for Kyiv that will include four advanced rocket systems, known as HIMARS, with a range of up to 80 kilometres.

Britain said it had co-ordinated its package with the Americans.

The decision to give Ukraine the rocket systems was made after Washington received assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to hit targets inside Russian territory, which could broaden the war.

More U.S. sanctions

Ukraine has been seeking Multiple Rocket Launch Systems such as the M270 and M142 HIMARS to provide more firepower at longer range to hit Russian forces well behind the front line.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters during his daily conference call that “the pumping” of weapons “will bring more suffering to Ukraine, which is merely a tool in the hands of those countries that supply it with weapons.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, is expected to meet with U.S. President Biden on Thursday morning in Washington. 

The Biden administration on Thursday has issued a fresh round of Russia-related sanctions targeting 17 individuals, including Sergei Roldugin, a close Putin associate, a U.S. Department of Treasury said in a notice on its website Thursday.

The latest sanctions also targeted 16 entities, including Putin-linked yachts and three aircraft, the notice said.

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