Ukraine: Donbas region on the brink of collapse
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Russian troops have begun to push Ukrainian defenders out from positions within the city of Severodonetsk in the east of Ukraine as Vladimir Putin’s forces begin grinding out an advance along the Donbas front. CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance has reported the situation does not look good for Ukrainian forces as Russia moves to take Kyiv’s only remaining enclave in the Luhansk region.
Mr Chance told CNN: “Well, it doesn’t look good for the Ukrainian forces because I can tell you there’s a lot of fierce fighting taking place around the city of Severodonetsk, which is the biggest the last remaining city, really, that is under Ukrainian control in that region of eastern Ukraine.
“If the Russians take control of it as looks likely at the moment, that would mean a big political win for them because it means they’ve got full control over that Luhansk region, which is a significant step towards taking control of the whole Donbas region in the east of Ukraine.
“There is fighting taking place elsewhere as well, in fact, as Russia concentrates its troops up there in the northeast of Ukraine, to the towards the south the Ukrainians say they’re making progress in a counter offence that they’ve launched.
“They’re seizing back territory that’s been previously conquered by the Russians, killing Russian soldiers and destroying Russian military vehicles.
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“So there is still very much an ebb and flow in the fierce fighting that’s taking place in eastern Ukraine right now.”
Russian troops were slowly advancing towards the city centre in Severodonetsk, a regional governor said on Tuesday, giving an update from a pocket of Ukrainian resistance that has held back the broader Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, told Ukrainian state television that there were some 15,000 civilians left in Severodonetsk, as most of the city’s 120,000 people had fled the brutal bombardment by Russian artillery.
Preparing for the worst, Gadai said Ukrainian troops defending Severodonetsk could retreat across the Siverskyi Donets river to the city of Lysychansk to escape encirclement.
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As the Russian offensive continued across Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the European Union on Monday agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, a move intended to blow a hole in the Kremlin’s war finances.
In the bloc’s toughest sanction on Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine three months ago, European Council President Charles Michel said the ban agreed at an EU summit in Brussels on Monday would immediately cover more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia and cut a “huge source of financing for its war machine.”
EU leaders said they had agreed to cut 90 percent of oil imports from Russia by the end of this year, with exemptions for Hungary – a landlocked country that relies heavily on crude piped from Russia – and others concerned about the ban’s economic impact.
They also agreed to cut off the largest Russian bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT system and to ban three more Russian state-owned broadcasters, Michel added.
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The announcement came as Russian forces pushed into key objectives in the Donbas, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation remained “extremely difficult”.
Russia has been seeking to seize the entire Donbas, consisting of Luhansk and Donetsk which Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.
Capturing the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk would give Moscow effective control of Luhansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of war.
The leader of the Moscow-backed Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, told TASS that a third of Sievierodonetsk was “already under our control” but progress was less rapid than hoped.
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