The Russians reach the center of the Ukrainian industrial city; US to give Kyiv advanced rockets
- Russia bristles at US rocket deliveries
- Russians control 70% of Sievierodonetsk – governor of the province
- Ukrainian civilians take shelter under a chemical plant hit by the Russians
KYIV, June 1 (Reuters) – Russian forces smashed their way through the center of the Ukrainian industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday, closing in on victory in their offensive in the eastern Donbass region.
But in a boost for Ukraine, locked in a bitter fight against the invading Russian army, the United States announced a new $700 million weapons package for Kyiv, which will include Advanced rockets capable of hitting targets up to 80 km (50 miles).
Moscow accused the United States of having “added fuel to the fire”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the supply of the rocket launchers increased the risk of a “third country” being drawn into the conflict.
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine had promised not to use the systems to hit targets inside Russia. U.S. President Joe Biden hopes extending Ukrainian artillery range will help Moscow negotiate an end to the war, which is now in its fourth month.
After days of heavy fighting around Sievierodonetsk, much of which was devastated by Russian shelling, Russian troops were slowly advancing through the streets of the city. Ukraine claims around 70% of the city is under Russian control.
“The enemy has entered the center of Sievierodonetsk and is trying to take a position,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said at a press briefing.
If Russia captures the city and its smaller twin Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, it will hold all of Luhansk, one of two Donbass provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of the separatists.
Capturing Luhansk in its entirety would fulfill one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main goals and cement a change in momentum on the battlefield after his forces were pushed back from the capital Kyiv and northern Ukraine.
In the bombed-out town of Rubizhne, a 15-minute drive northwest of Sievierodonetsk, residents filled jugs with water at a makeshift aid station.
Destroyed military vehicles littered the streets lined with badly damaged residential buildings. The children sat silently in an air-raid shelter. Outside, black smoke rose above a red-domed Orthodox church.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai told Reuters in an interview that civilians were sheltering from Russian attacks under a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk which he said was hit by an airstrike on Tuesday, releasing a large pink cloud . Read more
“There are civilians there in bomb shelters, there are a number left, most of whom did not wish to leave,” Gaidai said. Reuters could not independently confirm the account. About 15,000 people remained in the city, Gaidai said.
Gaidai warned that Ukrainian troops in Sievierodonetsk might be forced to retreat to Lysychansk, which he said was easier to defend from its vantage point on a hill. But Russian forces would target it with artillery and mortars once in full control of Sievierodonetsk, he added.
Putin sent his troops across the border in what he calls a special military operation on Feb. 24 to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its allies call it a baseless pretext for a war of aggression and the West has imposed harsh sanctions on Russia in an attempt to strangle its economy.
Thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine and millions more displaced since the invasion began. Read more
Along with advanced rocket systems, called HIMARS, the new US package includes munitions, counterfire radars, air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-armour weapons, officials said.
“The United States will stand with our Ukrainian partners and continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and equipment to defend itself,” Biden said in a statement.
The decision to give Ukraine the rocket systems came after Washington received assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to strike targets inside Russian territory, which could expand the war.
Ukraine has been researching Multiple Rocket Launch Systems (MLRS) such as the M270 and M142 HIMARS to provide more firepower at longer ranges to strike Russian troop concentrations and weapons stockpiles at home. rear of the Russian forces.
The Pentagon said Washington would initially supply Ukraine with four HIMARS systems.
The new supplies add up to billions of dollars worth of equipment such as drones and anti-aircraft missiles. The Biden administration plans to sell four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones that can be armed with Hellfire missiles to Ukraine for use in the battlefield against Russia, three sources told Reuters. Read more
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the supplies would not encourage Ukrainian leaders to resume stalled peace talks.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Gareth Jones, Angus MacSwan and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool
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