Russian attacks laid down a curtain of fire yesterday across areas of eastern Ukraine where pockets of resistance are denying Moscow full military control of the region, almost four months after the Kremlin unleashed an invasion.
“Today everything that can burn is on fire,” Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, told The Associated Press.
Russia’s war has caused alarm over food supplies from Ukraine to the rest of the world and gas supplies from Russia, as well as raising questions about security in Western Europe.
The Russian military currently controls about 95% of the Luhansk region. But Moscow has struggled for weeks to overrun it completely, despite deploying additional troops and possessing a massive advantage in military assets.
In the city of Sievierodonetsk, the hot spot of the fighting, Ukrainian defenders held on to the Azot chemical plant in the industrial outskirts. About 500 civilians are sheltering at the plant, and Haidai said the Russian forces are turning the area “into ruins.”
“It is a sheer catastrophe,” Haidai told the AP in written comments about the plant. “Our positions are being fired at from howitzers, multiple rocket launchers, large-caliber artillery, missile strikes.”
The defense of the chemical plant recalled the besieged Azovstal steel mill in the brutalized city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian troops were pinned down for weeks.
Neighboring Lysychansk, the only city in the Luhansk region that is still fully under Ukrainian control, is also the target of multiple airstrikes.
Separately, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was making an unannounced visit to Ukraine on yesterday to meet with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
The two planned to discuss U.S. and international efforts to help Ukraine identify, apprehend and prosecute anyone involved in war crimes and other atrocities there, a U.S. Justice Department official said. The official could not discuss details of the trip publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Ukrainian president’s office said yesterday that at least six civilians had been killed over the previous 24 hours, and 16 others were wounded.
According to its daily update, Russian forces over the day shelled the northern Chernihiv region, and intensified their shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Explosions also occurred on yesterday morning in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
Airstrikes on Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk have ruined more than 10 residential buildings and a police station. In the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, a school burned down as the result of the shelling, the president’s office said.
International support for Ukraine’s plight was demonstrated once more when a Nobel Peace Prize medal auctioned off by Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov sold Monday night for $103.5 million, shattering the old record for a Nobel. The auction aimed to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees.
Geopolitical tensions stemming from Russia’s invasion returned to Lithuania. Due to European Union sanctions on Moscow, the Baltic country earlier this month banned rail traffic from crossing its territory from Russia to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Kaliningrad, with a population of around 430,000 people, is wedged between Lithuania and Poland, both EU countries, and is isolated from the rest of Russia.
Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council and a hardliner, visited Kaliningrad on Tuesday and vowed to respond to the ban.
“The relevant measures are being drawn up in an interagency format and will be adopted shortly,” Patrushev said, without elaborating. He added: “Their consequences will have a significant negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”
Meanwhile, Russian authorities blocked the website of British newspaper The Telegraph over an article it published, the internet rights group Roskomsvoboda reported Tuesday.
The group said in an online statement that Russia’s media and internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, blocked Russian access to a story Moscow described as “fake news.” The move made the entire Telegraph website inaccessible for some Russians.
The Telegraph story alleged that Russian forces had prepared a mobile crematorium for use in its war with Ukraine, possibly to hide its military casualties.
YURAS KARMANAU, JOHN LEICESTER & DAVID KEYTON, KYIV, MDT/AP