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Battle for Donbas twin cities reaches ‘dreadful climax’, says Ukraine


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KYIV – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbass region and urged Ukraine’s allies to speed up the shipment of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.

The fight for the twin towns of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region “is entering a kind of fearsome climax”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy. Russia seeks to seize both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbass region, the country’s industrial heartland.

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On the diplomatic front, European leaders will officially commit Ukraine on the long road to EU membership on Thursday at a summit in Brussels. Although mostly symbolic, the decision will help boost morale after four months of bloody conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

“We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but faster, much faster,” Zelenskiy said in a video address released early Thursday, reiterating Ukrainian demands for bigger and faster weapons.

“There were massive air and artillery strikes in the Donbass. The occupier’s goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy all of Donbass step by step,” he said.

“That is why we constantly insist on the acceleration of arms deliveries to Ukraine. What is needed quickly is parity on the battlefield to stop this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukrainian borders.

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TWIN TOWNS

The fierce attrition war in the Donbass is most critical in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, with Ukraine and Russia arguing over who controls the bombed city.

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in Sievierodonetsk, the scene of the heaviest recent fighting, are surrounded and trapped. He ordered them last week to surrender or die.

But Luhansk Regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that “battles are continuing” and that “Russian forces do not have full control.”

In Lysychansk, the Tass news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying Ukrainians in the town were now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road linking the town to the town of Sieviersk was taken.

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Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the report.

Arestovitch said Russian forces in the two cities were conscripts of varying levels of training after Ukraine inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces. Reuters could not verify its comments on Russian losses.

“It’s like two boxers going head-to-head in the 18th round of a fight and barely able to get things done. This operation started on April 14 and has been going on for almost 80 days,” he said in an online video post.

EU MEMBERSHIP

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special operation” to provide Russian security and de-Nazify Ukraine. Ukraine and the West call it a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of a wider conflict in Europe.

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Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet state, and Western clubs like the European Union (EU) and the NATO military alliance.

Zelenskiy said he spoke to 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and would make further calls on Thursday. He said earlier that he believed all 27 EU countries would support Ukraine’s candidate status.

“We deserve it,” Zelenskiy told the crowd in Amsterdam via video link.

Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria for EU membership. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture that recognizes Ukraine’s sacrifice.

The war in Ukraine has had a massive impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy reliance on energy Russia and encouraging Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership.

The EU will temporarily revert to coal to cope with dwindling Russian gas flows without derailing longer-term climate goals, an EU official said on Wednesday, amid a tight gas market and surging prices trigger a race for alternative fuels.

Group of Seven and NATO leaders will seek to increase pressure on Russia over its war in Ukraine in meetings next week, US administration officials have said.

(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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