Ukrainian forces ‘holding on’ in key Donbas battles


Map showing the number of Ukrainian refugees registered across Europe since the start of the Russian invasion, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were “holding on” in the flashpoint eastern city Severodonetsk where intense street battles with Russian troops could determine the fate of the Donbas region. 

Moscow has concentrated its firepower on the industrial city, which it now mostly controls, with the area’s governor saying on Friday that Russian forces had destroyed a major sports arena.  

Zelensky said in his evening address on Thursday night that several “cities in Donbas, which the occupiers now consider key targets, are holding on”. 

With the fiercest fighting now concentrated in Severodonetsk, governor Sergiy Gaiday — who earlier called for Western artillery to quickly help secure a Ukrainian victory — said “one of the symbols of Severodonetsk was destroyed. The Ice Palace burned down”.

Up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed every day in frontline fighting and as many as 500 wounded, Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.

Separatist authorities in the Donetsk region of the Donbas ordered the death penalty for Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saadun Brahim, Russian media reported.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the sentence contravenes the Geneva Convention, under which “prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity”.

Moroccan Brahim surrendered in March in the eastern town of Volnovakha.

A lawyer representing one of them told the TASS news agency that they would appeal.

After being repelled from Kyiv weeks into their invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops have refocused their offensive on the eastern Donbas. 

Moscow, which has repeatedly warned the West against getting involved, said it had targeted a Ukrainian training centre for “foreign mercenaries” in the Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv.

It reported seven other deaths in fighting across the country. 

Putin, meanwhile, appeared to compare his actions to Peter the Great’s conquest of the Baltic coast during his 18th-century war against Sweden.

“It is our responsibility also to take back and strengthen”.

Zelensky on Thursday called for Russia to be expelled from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), blaming Moscow for “causing hunger” and spurring the global grain crisis by invading his country.

The FAO warned that poor countries will suffer the most from the crisis as they were “paying more but receiving less food”.

Moscow has also called for Ukraine to demine, but Kyiv has refused for fear of a Russian attack.

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