Pro-Russian rebels claim to ‘encircle’ key city, Ukraine denies

  • Lysychansk is the last major city in the Ukrainian region of Lugansk.
  • It is located across the river from the nearby city of Severodonetsk, which Russia seized last week.
  • UNESCO has included the Ukrainian tradition of cooking borscht soup on its endangered cultural heritage list.

Fighting raged on Saturday for Lysychansk, a strategically important Ukrainian city, as kyiv denied that pro-Russia, backed by Moscow, had surrounded the eastern city.

The clashes were intense in Lysychansk, the last major city in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, located across the river from the neighboring city of Severodonetsk, which Russia seized last week.

Capturing the city would allow Russian forces to penetrate deeper into the Donbass battlefield region, which has become the focus of their offensive since they failed to capture Kyiv after overrunning it in late February. .

“Fighting is raging around Lysychansk… The city has not been surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, told Ukrainian television.

Earlier in the day, Andrei Marochko, spokesman for the separatist forces, told TASS news agency: “Lysychansk is completely surrounded.”

The announcements come as missiles continue to rain down on Ukraine, killing dozens of people.

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Rockets hit residential properties in Solviansk, in the heart of Donbass, killing a woman in her garden and injuring her husband, a neighbor told AFP on Saturday, describing debris that poured into the neighborhood.

The witness said Friday’s strike was supposed to use cluster munitions which spread over a wide area before exploding, hitting buildings and people outside.

Strikes on a southern resort town earlier on Friday left 21 dead and dozens injured after missiles slammed into apartments and a recreation center in Sergiyvka, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the port of Odessa on the Black Sea.

The attacks came after Moscow abandoned positions on a strategic island in a major setback to the Kremlin invasion.

Among the victims of the Sergiyvka attacks was a 12-year-old boy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation on Friday evening.

“I insist that this is a deliberate and deliberate Russian act of terror,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Saturday he had discussed a seventh round of European sanctions against Russia with his European counterpart Joseph Borrell.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine was ‘suffering heavy losses on all fronts’, listing what he said were military targets across the country hit by artillery and missiles.

The strikes follow global outrage earlier this week when a Russian strike destroyed a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing at least 21 civilians according to the mayor.

President Vladimir Putin denied his forces were responsible for the attack and Moscow had no immediate comment on the Odessa strikes.

Earlier on Friday, Zelensky hailed a new chapter in his relations with the European Union, after Brussels recently granted candidate status to Ukraine as part of Kyiv’s push to join the 27-member bloc, even though accession is likely years from now.

“Our path to membership should not take decades. We should take this path quickly,” Zelensky told the Ukrainian parliament.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said membership was “within reach”, but urged them to work on anti-corruption reforms.

Norway, which is not a member of the EU, announced on Friday a billion dollars in aid for Kyiv, in particular for reconstruction and armament.

And the Pentagon said it was sending a new weapons package worth $820 million, including two air defense systems and more ammunition for precision rocket launchers.

In a decision that further chilled relations between Kyiv and Moscow, the UN cultural agency has put the Ukrainian tradition of cooking borscht soup on its endangered cultural heritage list.

Ukraine considers the nutritious soup, usually made from beets, a national dish although it is also widely eaten in Russia, other countries of the former Soviet Union and Poland.

UNESCO said the decision was approved after an accelerated process prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

We “will win both in the borscht war and in this war,” Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said on Telegram.

On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the early days of the war, and sits alongside shipping lanes near the port of Odessa.

The Russian Defense Ministry described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” intended to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.

But on Friday night, Kyiv accused Moscow of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on the rocky outcrop.

In a daily update, the Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on the alleged phosphorus use.

In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but the Russian invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukrainian ports seized, razed or blockaded, raising concerns about food shortages, especially in poor countries.

Farmer Sergiy Lyoubarsky, whose fields are close to the front line, 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Lysychansk, warned that time was running out to harvest this year’s crop.

“We can wait until August 10 at the latest, but after that the grains will dry out and fall to the ground,” he said.

Western powers have accused Putin of stealing grain and using the booby-trapped crop as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community.

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