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Russia Presses Forward Despite Fierce Resistance


FILE: A self-propelled howitzer of pro-Russian troops fires a leaflet shell in the direction of Sievierodonetsk to dispense propaganda and information materials from their combat positions in the Luhansk region, Ukraine May 24, 2022.

Russian troops have entered the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, the regional governor said on Monday, describing "very fierce" fighting in the ruins of a city that has become the focus of Moscow's offensive.

Incessant shelling has left Ukrainian forces defending ruins in Sievierodonetsk, but their refusal to withdraw has slowed the massive Russian offensive across the Donbas region.

Russia has concentrated its firepower on the last major population center still held by Ukrainian forces in the eastern Luhansk province, in a push to achieve one of President Vladimir Putin's stated objectives after three months of war.

"Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers ... We do all we can to hold this advance," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised speech.

"Some 90% of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the city's housing stock has been completely destroyed."

Taking Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river would give Russia effective control of Luhansk province, a point at which the Kremlin might be able to declare some form of victory.

But by focusing its effort on a battle for the single small city - Sievierodonetsk housed only around 100,000 people before the war - Russia might be leaving other territory open to eventual Ukrainian counterstrikes.

Luhansk region governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had advanced into the city's southeastern and northeastern fringes. But he said Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka to the south, potentially frustrating Moscow's push to encircle the area.

After failing to capture Kyiv in March, Russia announced that the focus of its "special military operation" was now to seize the entire Donbas region, consisting of two provinces, Luhansk and Donetsk, that Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

A Ukrainian soldier on patrol in trenches near the town of Bakhmut, southwest of Sievierodonetsk, spoke of a nagging fear that his government could be drawn into negotiating an end to the conflict that would result in Ukraine losing territory.

"You know now what I'm most afraid of, now that the fighting is so intense, so tough?" Dmytro, a former English language teacher, told Reuters television. "That we would be told: That's it, stop it, we have a ceasefire."

"A negotiated settlement can only happen on Ukrainian terms, and at present if it happened it would be a horror."

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