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Ukraine reports ‘massive bombardment’ from Belarus

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Ukraine said it came under “massive bombing” on Saturday from neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally not officially involved in the conflict, the day after it announced its withdrawal from the strategic city of Severodonetsk.

Twenty rockets were aimed at the village of Desna in the northern region of Chernigiv, Ukraine’s northern military command said in a statement, adding that infrastructure was affected but no casualties had yet been reported. Belarus has provided Moscow logistical support since the February 24 invasion, particularly in the first few weeks, and, like Russia, has been the target of Western sanctions but is not officially involved in the conflict.

“Today’s strike is directly related to the Kremlin’s efforts to involve Belarus as a combatant in the war in Ukraine,” Ukraine’s intelligence agency said. The strikes came at a scheduled meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart and close ally Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

Russia’s foreign ministry on Friday condemned Brussels’ decision to grant Ukraine official EU candidate status as an attempt to contain Russia geopolitically. The decision “confirms that a geopolitical monopolization of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) space is actively continuing to contain Russia,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s western allies will gather on Sunday at a summit of G7 leaders in Germany, where President Volodymyr Zelensky will speak. US President Joe Biden will attend the G7 and a NATO military alliance summit in Madrid next week.

‘slow war’

In the face-to-face talks, Western allies will take stock of the effectiveness of the sanctions imposed against Moscow so far, consider possible new aid to Ukraine and look to longer-term reconstruction plans. The European Union on Thursday expressed strong support for granting candidate status to Ukraine, although the road to membership is long.

Moscow dismissed the EU decision as a move to “retain Russia geopolitically”. After four months, the conflict remains centered on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Kiev troops have finally given up an important position, the industrial city of Severodonetsk.

Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region to which the city belongs, said Friday that the army had been ordered to withdraw. “Staying in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense,” he told Telegram, adding that 90 percent of the city was damaged.

Severodonetsk has been the scene of street fighting for weeks as underprivileged Ukrainians doggedly defended themselves. Capturing the city and its twin across the river, Lysychansk, would effectively give the Russians control of Lugansk and allow them to penetrate further into the wider Donbas.

But Ukraine’s withdrawal from Severodonetsk will not change the course of the war, said Ivan Klyszcz, an international relations researcher at the Estonian University of Tartu. “The big picture – of a slow war of entrenched positions – has hardly changed. We cannot expect a massive Russian breakthrough,” he told AFP.

Separately, Russia said on Saturday that its troops had killed up to 80 Polish fighters in “precision strikes” on a factory in Konstantinovka” in the Donetsk region, a claim that could not be independently verified.

Lysychansk under attack

Gaiday said the Russians are now advancing towards Lysychansk, which is facing increasingly heavy bombardments. The situation for those who remain in the city is bleak. Liliya Nesterenko, who cycled to a friend’s house to feed her pets, said her house had no gas, water or electricity, forcing her and her mother to cook on a campfire.

But the 39-year-old was optimistic about the city’s defense: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, it should be able to handle it.” Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed Lugansk army, said on Friday that all villages in the neighboring areas of Zolote and Hirske are now under the control of Russian or pro-Russian forces.

A video on Marochko’s Telegram channel showed a man in military clothing replacing a Ukrainian flag bearing Zolote’s coat of arms with a red hammer and sickle flag. Russia’s defense ministry said on Friday that up to 2,000 people were “completely blocked” near Zolote and Hirske, and about half of Zolote was under Russian control.

Human remains

Russia has also stepped up its offensive in the northern city of Kharkov in recent days. An AFP team on Saturday spotted a 10-storey administrative building in the city center that was hit by rockets overnight, causing a fire but no casualties. It had already been bombed, prompting a soldier at the scene to remark, “The Russians are finishing what they started.”

On Friday, the same reporters found a stray dog ​​eating human remains in the town of Chuguiv, southeast of Kharkov, where six people were killed earlier this week. In the southern Kherson region, a Moscow-appointed official was killed by an explosive device placed in his car, Russian news agencies reported.

Kherson’s deputy head Kirill Stremousov said the regional head of the Family, Youth and Sports Department had died “as a result of an act of terrorism”. It was the first confirmed death of a pro-Russian official in a series of attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.

(AFP)

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