Ukraine loses control of Severodonetsk village as EU calls Russian grain blockade ‘real war crime’

Updated 1 hour ago

UKRAINE HAS SAID it has lost control of a village adjacent to the eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk, the center of weeks of fierce fighting with invading Russian troops.

It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Moscow was likely to intensify its “hostile activity” this week, as the country awaits a historic decision from the European Union on its bid for candidate status.

“Unfortunately, we do not control Metyolkine anymore. And the enemy continues to build up its reserves, ”Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said in a statement on social media.

The capture of the hamlet with a pre-war population of around 1,000 people is the latest around Severodonetsk, where Moscow’s army has met tough Ukrainian resistance.

Russian troops have slowly advanced in the eastern Donbas region where they focused their military efforts after being pushed out of areas around the capital at the start of their invasion in February.

Gaiday said that the Nitrogen chemical plant in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of civilians are said to be sheltering, was being shelled by Russian forces “constantly”.

The head of the city administration, Oleksandr Stryuk meanwhile told Ukrainian television Monday that Moscow’s army controls most of the city’s residential areas.

“If we talk about the whole city, still more than a third is controlled by our armed forces. Russians control the rest, ”he said.

“There are street battles around the clock,” he added, saying Ukrainian troops were being shelled routinely.

“The enemy is throwing more and more manpower into the offensive, to storm the city and push out our soldiers,” Stryuk said.

Evacuations from Severodonetsk have not been possible for days, after a last bridge across the river connecting it to Lysychansk was blown up.

In his evening address on Sunday, Zelenskyy said there had been “few such fateful decisions for Ukraine” as the one it expects from the EU this week.

“Only a positive decision is in the interests of the whole of Europe,” he said.

Obviously, we expect Russia to intensify hostile activity this week… We are preparing. We are ready.

Moscow’s forces have been pumping eastern Ukraine for weeks as they try to seize the Donbas region, after being repelled from other parts of the country following their February invasion.

Grain blockade

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this morning that Russia should be held “accountable” if it keeps blocking the export of vitally needed grain from Ukraine.

“One cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, ”Borrell said at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

The West has demanded Moscow stop blocking Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to allow vast stores of grain to be taken to world markets as fears rise of famines in vulnerable regions.

The EU backs United Nation efforts to mediate a deal between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey to get the grain out but these have failed to make any headway so far.

The 27-nation bloc has turned to counter Moscow’s claims that rising prices and shortfalls in the Middle East and Africa are down to EU sanctions imposed over Ukraine’s invasion.

“I want to insist that it’s not European sanctions that are creating this crisis – our sanctions don’t target food, don’t target fertilizers,” Borrell said.

“The problem comes from the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grains.”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna insisted that “Russia must stop playing with the global hunger” as it seeks leverage on the West.

“Leaving cereals blocked is dangerous for stability in the world,” she said.

On Friday, Brussels backed Kyiv’s bid for EU candidate status after the heads of the bloc’s biggest members – France, Germany and Italy – paid a visit to the Ukrainian capital.

Ukraine could join the list of countries vying for membership as early as this week, when member state leaders meet at a Brussels summit.

But officials and leaders in the bloc caution that, even with candidacy status, membership could take years.

Nato’s chief Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile warned that the war could grind on “for years” and urged Western countries to be ready to offer long-term military, political and economic aid.

“We must not weaken in our support of Ukraine, even if the costs are high – not only in terms of military support but also because of rising energy and food prices,” Stoltenberg told German daily newspaper Bild.

Ukraine has repeatedly urged Western countries to step up their arms deliveries, despite warnings from nuclear-armed Russia that it could trigger wider conflict.

Energy crisis

Zelenskyy made a rare trip outside Kyiv Saturday to the hold-out Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, where he visited troops nearby and in the neighboring Odessa region for the first time since the invasion.

“We will not give away the south to anyone, we will return everything that’s ours and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” he said in a video posted on Telegram as he made his way back to Kyiv.

Russia’s defense ministry said Sunday it launched missile strikes during the past 24 hours, with one attack on a top-level Ukrainian military meeting near the city of Dnipro killing “more than 50 generals and officers”.

It said it also targeted a building housing Western-provided weapons in Mykolaiv, destroying Ukrainian artillery and armored vehicles.

There was no independent verification of the claims.

Mykolaiv is a key target for Russia as it lies on the route to the strategic port of Odessa.

With Russia maintaining a blockade of Odessa that has trapped grain supplies and threatening a global food crisis, residents have turned their attention to rallying the home front effort.

“Every day, including the weekend, I come to make camouflage netting for the army,” said Natalia Pinchenkova, 49, standing by a large Union flag, a show of thanks to Britain for its support for Ukraine.

The Ukraine war is fuelling not only a global food crisis but an energy crisis too.

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Hit by punishing sanctions, Moscow has turned up the pressure on European economies by sharply reducing gas supplies, which has in turn sent energy prices soaring.

Germany on Sunday announced emergency measures including increased use of coal to ensure it meets its energy needs after a drop in the supply of Russian gas.

Austria announced it will reopen a mothballed coal power station to combat shortages, and Italian company Eni joined a huge Qatari project to expand production from the world’s largest natural gas field.

Attack repelled

The worst of the fighting is in the industrial Donbas region, with battles raging in villages outside the city of Severodonetsk, under unrelenting Russian fire for weeks.

Regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said the Russians had targeted the settlement of Toshkivka, south of Severodonetsk.

“But our artillery worked, and we can say the attempt to break through was not successful, even though they tried very powerfully to break our defense,” he wrote on Telegram.

Lysychansk, across a river from Severodonetsk, is also under heavy bombardment, with some residents sheltering in bases in dire conditions, with limited supplies of food and water.

Natalia Khalaimova, 54, urged Russia and Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war.

“Every war in any country ends – but the sooner, the better,” she told AFP. “So many civilians are killed. Most of them were not involved in the war at all. ”

© AFP 2022

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