Ukraine launches ‘Book of Executioners’ to describe war crimes: Zelensky

On Wednesday, Ukraine said its forces successfully held out against the Russian attack in Sievierodonetsk, as Russian forces brought fresh resources to Donbas in an intense battle for control of the eastern region.

The days-long battle for the industrial city has proved pivotal, with Russia concentrating its offensive force in hopes of achieving one of its stated goals – completely taking the surrounding province of Luhansk on behalf of Russian-speaking separatists.

“The absolutely heroic defense of Donbas is underway,” Zelensky said.

A police officer overlooks a crater left by a rocket attack in Druzhkivka, Ukraine. Credit:Getty

Putin’s forces have moved closer to the goal of completely capturing the eastern industrial heart of coal mines and factories, claiming control of 97 percent of one of the two provinces that make up the region.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s troops control almost the entire Luhansk province. And it appears that Russia now occupies about half of Donetsk province, according to Ukrainian officials and military analysts.

After Russia gave up its failed attempt to storm Kiev two months ago, Russia declared that its main objective was to take the entire Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces in the Donbas since 2014, and the region has been hit hardest by the Russian attack in recent weeks.

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Early in the war, Russian forces also took control of the entire Kherson region and much of the Zaporizhzhya region, both in the south. Russian officials and their local officials have discussed plans for those regions to either declare their independence or be incorporated into Russia.

But in what may be the latest case of anti-Russian sabotage in Ukraine, Russian state media said on Tuesday that an explosion at a cafe in the city of Kherson injured four people. Tass called the apparent bombing in the Russian-occupied city an “act of terror.”

Before the February 24 invasion, Ukrainian officials said Russia controlled about 7 percent of the country, including the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and areas controlled by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. Last week, Zelensky said Russian troops control 20 percent of the country.

While Russia has superior firepower, Ukrainian defenders have been entrenched and have shown the ability to counter-attack.

While insisting on Ukraine’s need to defeat Russia on the battlefield, Zelensky told a Financial times conference on Tuesday that he was still open to peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But a former senior US intelligence officer said the time was not right.

“You don’t come to the negotiating table until neither side feels they have an advantage they could push through,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.

The Donbas region of Ukraine, which includes the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks as Russia has concentrated its war efforts there.

The Donbas region of Ukraine, which includes the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks as Russia has concentrated its war efforts there. Credit:Getty

The Russians “believe they will be able to take all of Donbas and then use that as an opportunity to call for negotiations,” Kendall-Taylor said at an online seminar hosted by the Universities of Columbia and New York.

Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, said Moscow’s troops had captured the residential areas of Sievierodonetsk and were fighting for control of an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city and nearby towns.

A civilian militiaman holds a shotgun and a rifle while training at a shooting range in a suburb of Kiev, Ukraine.

A civilian militiaman holds a shotgun and a rifle while training at a shooting range in a suburb of Kiev, Ukraine.Credit:AP

Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk have been fighting fiercely in recent weeks. They are among a few towns and villages in the Luhansk region that are still holding out against the Russian invasion, aided by local pro-Kremlin forces.

Shoigu added that Russian forces pushed their offensive toward the city of Popasna, taking control of Lyman and Sviatohirsk and 15 other cities in the region.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak urged his people not to be dejected by the reversals on the battlefield.

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“Don’t be put off by the news that we have given up something,” he said in a video address. “It is clear that tactical maneuvers are underway. We give something up, we take something back.”

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai admitted that Russian troops control Sievierodonetsk’s industrial suburbs.

“The toughest street fights continue, with varying degrees of success,” Haidai said. “The situation is constantly changing, but the Ukrainians are repelling attacks.”

Moscow’s troops also kept up their artillery fire from Lysychansk. Haidai said Russian troops shelled a market, a school and a university building, destroying the latter. At least three people were injured, he said.

“There is total destruction of the city going on. Russian shelling has intensified significantly in the past 24 hours. Russians are using scorched earth tactics,” Haidai said.

Meanwhile, the US military has begun training Ukrainian troops on the advanced multiple rocket launchers that the Biden administration agreed to supply last week. The Pentagon said the training is taking place at a base in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, is mounted on a truck and can carry a container with six rockets, which can travel about 70 kilometers. Officials said it would take about three weeks of training before they could go to the front.

The war also brought deadlock on Tuesday between the head of the UN nuclear watchdog and Ukrainian authorities over the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, wants to visit the factory in Zaporizhzhia to help maintain security after it was taken by Russian forces in March.

But Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-owned company that oversees the country’s nuclear power plants, said in a blunt statement that Grossi is not welcome. He said his planned tour is “another attempt to legitimize the occupying forces’ presence there”.

Amid fears of a global food crisis caused by the war, the Kremlin said Ukraine must remove sea mines near the Port of Odessa on the Black Sea in order to resume essential grain exports from there. Ukrainian officials have expressed concern that removing the mines could allow Moscow’s troops to attack.

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