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Russians edge closer to taking key Ukrainian city

SOLEDAR, UKRAINE (AFP) – Russian forces edged closer yesterday to taking a key Ukrainian city after days of intense fighting, tightening their slow squeeze on the eastern Donbas region as Washington warned the war could last months.

The industrial hub of Severodonetsk has become a key target for Moscow, and the local governor said that 80 per cent of the city was now under Russian control.

“Street fighting continues,” said Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday on Telegram, pledging Ukrainian forces “will fight for Severodonetsk until the end”.

Ukraine stopped Russia from seizing Kyiv after its February invasion but the campaign in the east has had a high cost, with President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly saying that up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying daily.

“The most difficult situation is in the Lugansk region, where the enemy is trying to displace our units from their positions,” said commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.

Ukrainian troops sit on an armoured vehicle as they move back from the front line near the city of Slovyansk in the eastern Donbas region. PHOTO: AFP

“The enemy has a decisive advantage in artillery,” Zaluzhnyi told France’s top general Thierry Burkhard in a phone call, adding he want his units to be equipped with weapons of the type used by military alliance NATO. “It will save the lives of our people”.

Ukrainian forces received a boost this week when United States (US) President Joe Biden announced that more advanced rocket systems were on the way.

The new weapon is the Himars multiple launch rocket system, or MLRS, a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometres away.

They are the centrepiece of a USD700 million package unveiled on Wednesday that also includes air-surveillance radar, more Javelin short-range anti-tank rockets, artillery ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and spare parts.

But analysts caution the new rockets are unlikely to suddenly turn the tables – not least because Ukrainian troops need time to learn how to use them effectively.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of “adding fuel to the fire” with the new weapons, although US officials insist Ukraine has promised not to use them to strike into Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there were no signs of Russia pulling back its forces, “as best we can assess right now, we are still looking at many months of conflict”.

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