Russia captures about half of Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, Zelensky says

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May 31 (UPI) — The Russian military on Tuesday seized “around half” of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his Tuesday night address to the country.

He said the city is “at the epicenter of the confrontation,” according to a translation of his address by The Washington Post.

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“The situation in the Donbas direction is very difficult.”

Severodonetsk city official Oleksandr Stryuk said evacuations had to be halted on Tuesday because of the Russian advances after forces broke through Ukrainian defenses.

Russian troops have been fighting to make the new advances in Severodonetsk for days.

“Unfortunately, the front line has cut the city into two halves, but the city is still defending [itself], the city is still Ukrainian,” Stryuk said, according to The Guardian.

“The evacuation is suspended. Unfortunately, it’s impossible [to evacuate civilians] because street fighting is continuing.”

If Russia fully captures Severodonetsk, Moscow would hold nearly all of the easternmost Luhansk oblast that, along with Donetsk oblast, make up the Donbas region.

A Russian airstrike on a nitric acid tank in Severodonetsk also has posed a challenge to those attempting to flee the city. Luhansk oblast Gov. Serhiy Haidai posted on Telegram that residents should remain indoors due to the toxic nature of the substance.

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In recent days, Russian forces have overrun the towns of Svitlodarsk and Lyman and made continued advances in Moscow’s goal of taking the entire Donbas region from Ukraine, as it did with Crimea almost a decade ago.

Zelensky said in his nightly address that Ukrainian fighters have made progress in Kherson and Kharkiv, according to CNN. Troops also held back Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia.

“Our defenders show extreme bravery, despite the fact that Russia has a substantial advantage in force and weapons,” he said. “We want all of our people liberated, but it needs to be done with caution.”

In the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which Russia captured after three months of intense fighting, officials said a Russian ship carrying about 2,500 tons of “hot-rolled sheets” of steel left docks for the first time since the takeover.

The shipment, bound for Russia, left after Ukrainian officials complained that Moscow was looting Ukrainian products such as grains and metals to be used in Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he’s scheduled to meet with Turkish leaders in Turkey next week in hopes of creating a safe corridor for Ukrainian grain vessels to avert a food crisis.

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Ukraine, one of the world’s largest suppliers of grains, said Russia has been blocking shipments of corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a phone call recently that Moscow was ready to allow the ships to leave with coordination from Turkey.

A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo