(Reuters Reports) – Russian forces swarmed into the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk and pounded a zone where hundreds of civilians were sheltering, a Ukrainian official said on Monday – a scene that mirrored Moscow’s brutal capture of Mariupol last month.
Ukraine has issued increasingly urgent calls for more Western weapons to help defend Sievierodonetsk, which Kyiv says could hold the key to the outcome of the battle for control of the eastern Donbas region and the future course of the war.
In a report that was not confirmed by the Ukrainian side, a Russian-backed separatist said the last bridge into the city had been destroyed on Sunday, effectively blockading its Ukrainian defenders inside.
“They have two options: either follow the example of their fellow soldiers and surrender, or die,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted separatist spokesperson Eduard Basurin as saying. “They have no other option.”
Regional governor Sergei Gadai had said on Sunday evening the last crossing over the Siverskyi Donets river was still standing after another bridge was destroyed earlier in the day.
“The third bridge is working. But the condition of the bridge is threatening: it is half-destroyed, it is impossible for trucks to move on it,” he said.
On Monday he said fighting was raging in the city, where Ukrainian forces were defending building by building.
“The battles are so fierce that fighting for not just a street but for a single high-rise building can last for days,” he said on social media.
Russian artillery fire also rained down on the Azot chemical plant, where hundred of civilians were sheltering, Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine that includes Sievierodonetsk, said.
Before Mariupol fell to Russia last month, hundreds of civilians and badly wounded Ukrainian soldiers were trapped for weeks in the Azovstal steelworks. Ukrainian officials say cholera is now spreading among remaining residents due to bodies buried in rubble from destroyed residential buildings.
Gaidai estimated that Russian forces now controlled about 70% of Sievierodonetsk, and said they were destroying it “quarter by quarter” in one of the bloodiest assaults since the invasion was launched on Feb. 24.
“Russians continue to storm the city, having a significant advantage in artillery they have somewhat pushed back the Ukrainian soldiers,” Gaidai said on Monday.
IMAGE OF RUSSIA
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Sunday that Russia was trying to pour military reserves into the Donbas.
“Severe fighting is ongoing there – literally for every metre,” he said.
Zelenskiy said attacks that resulted in child casualties had created a lasting image of Russia for the rest of the world rather than the images Moscow was trying to project.
“Not Peter the Great, not Lev Tolstoy, but children injured and killed in Russian attacks,” he said, in an apparent reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks last week comparing Moscow’s military campaign to Russian emperor Peter the Great’s 18th century conquest of lands held by Sweden.