LYSSYTCHANSK | Ukraine, fighting Russian forces in the Donbass, is hoping its western allies, meeting around US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Brussels on Wednesday, will decide to speed up shipments of heavy weapons.
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“Brussels, we are waiting for a decision,” tweeted Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian Presidency. “The artillery ratio between Russia and Ukraine is about 10 to 1 in some areas. I get daily messages from our fighters saying, ‘We’re holding out, just tell us when the guns are coming,'” he said few hours before the opening of the meeting of the allies.
This new Ukrainian appeal comes as Russian and pro-Russian separatists continue their assault on the city of Severodonetsk and its neighbor Lysyhansk. The two cities are key to taking over the entire Donbass Basin in eastern Ukraine, part of which pro-Russian forces have controlled since 2014.
“We must persevere,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday evening, on the 111th day of the Russian invasion that began on February 24. “It is important to stay in Donbass (…), defending the region is essential to give an indication of who will dominate in the coming weeks,” he added in his daily video message.
Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Czech Parliament.
For weeks, the Ukrainians have been demanding large quantities of heavy weapons. If Washington and London have promised multiple rocket launcher systems with a slightly longer range than comparable Russian weapons, they only seem to be coming in dribbles and dribbles.
“We [n’avons] receive [qu’]about 10%” of the weapons that Ukraine needs, without which “we cannot win this war,” deplored Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Maliar.
“Yes, Ukraine should have more heavy weapons,” assured NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday evening.
NATO has already begun to “increase” its arms supplies to Kyiv, he added, noting that Ukrainians are “absolutely dependent on (these supplies) to deal with Russia’s brutal aggression.”
Deliveries that the Russian army is trying to intercept. It said on Wednesday that it used Kalibr missiles to destroy a NATO weapons cache, including M777 155mm howitzers, near Lviv in western Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities have admitted in recent days that their troops have been driven out of downtown Severodonetsk and have only “complicated lines of communication” with them after all bridges to Lysytchansk were destroyed.
According to Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandre Striouk, Ukrainian forces have mainly entrenched themselves in the Azot chemical plant, symbolic of this city of 100,000 people and home to more than 500 civilians.
Moscow on Tuesday proposed a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow these civilians to be evacuated to Russian-controlled areas, but Kyiv did not confirm this. A pro-Russian separatist official Wednesday morning accused Ukrainians of preventing its formation.
A situation reminiscent of that of the huge Azovstal steel mill, which for weeks was the last nest of Ukrainian resistance in the Mariupol port on the Sea of Azov, with hundreds of civilians taking refuge with them and infrequent coordinated evacuation operations.
Ukraine’s presidency on Wednesday confirmed that Russia’s attack on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk is ongoing, without mentioning an advance by either side. Kyiv has so far denied any encirclement of its forces, while pro-Russian separatists have urged them to “surrender or die.”
According to an AFP journalist on the ground, the roads connecting Lysytchansk to Kramatorsk, another key Donbass city under Ukrainian control, are used to transport weapons, including Grad multiple rocket launchers and artillery pieces, while special vehicles transport tanks that need repairs.
Like Severodonetsk, Lysytchansk is now virtually deserted, with electrical wires cut, shops charred.
“The Russians are bombing the city center all the time,” a local police officer told AFP. “That’s 24 hours a day, ‘non stop’,” adds his colleague.
Next decision of the European Union
Even if Ukraine’s prospects of joining NATO seem slimmer than ever, Kyiv is waiting until June 24 for a decision from the European Union on its application to be accepted as an official candidate for European Union membership – the Beginning of a negotiation process that can take years.
In this context, according to the German and Italian media, French President Emmanuel Macron, who holds the EU Council Presidency until June 30, as well as Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi are expected in Kyiv on Thursday.
Such a visit would be a first for the leaders of Europe’s three largest economies since the start of the Russian invasion.
Without confirming the trip, the French President sent encouraging signals to Kyiv on Wednesday while visiting a NATO base in Romania.
“I think we are at a time when we, the European Union, need to send clear political signals to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in a context where they have been putting up heroic resistance for several months,” Macron said, stressing However, that “new in-depth talks” with Ukraine are necessary.