By JOHN LEICESTER and DAVID KEYTON Associated Press
Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military has expanded its control over territory in eastern Ukraine as it seeks to cut off supply lines and encircle Ukrainian frontline forces, as the Ukrainian military announced Thursday the arrival of powerful US multiple launch rockets offer an advantage on the battlefield.
Ukrainian forces withdrew from some areas near the city of Lysychansk to avoid being encircled as the Russians sent reinforcements and concentrated their firepower in the area, the British Defense Ministry said. The city is located in Luhansk province, a major battlefield in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces took control of the villages of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka, and were trying to capture Syrotyne, a settlement outside the province’s administrative center, Sievierodonetsk. Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press that the Russians were “burning everything” in their drive to encircle the Ukraine fighters.
“The Russians are advancing without trying to save ammunition or troops, and they are not running out either,” Haidai said. “They have an advantage in heavy artillery and in the number of troops.”
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After repeated requests to its Western allies for heavier weaponry to counter Russia’s advantage in firepower, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said an answer had come in the form of US medium-range rocket launchers.
“Summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them,” Reznikov tweeted, thanking the United States for “these powerful tools.”
A US defense official confirmed on Wednesday that the promised four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were in the hands of Ukrainian forces, but said it was unclear if they had already been used.
The United States approved providing the precision-guided systems in late May, and once they were in the region, Ukraine forces needed about three weeks of training to operate them. The rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).
The United States will send an additional $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including four more medium-range rocket systems, ammunition and other supplies, US officials announced Thursday.
Analysts said the advanced systems would give Ukrainian forces greater precision in hitting Russian targets. Mykola Sunhurovsky of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank, said HIMARS have a longer range, more accuracy and a higher rate of fire compared to similar Soviet-designed systems that Russia and Ukraine have used during the war. of four months.
In the Luhansk region, the Ukrainians remain in control of part of the territory, “defying the Russians and provoking their fury and desire to burn it to the ground,” Haidai said.
For weeks, Russian forces have pounded Sievierodonetsk with air and artillery strikes, and house-to-house fighting against the Ukrainian army. Ukrainian forces remain entrenched with some 500 civilians at the Azot chemical plant, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
Haidai said Ukrainian soldiers prevented the seizure of the city from the plant’s extensive underground structures, but noted that “the shelling has intensified and even the concrete shelters cannot withstand the shelling.” The Russians were using their entire arsenal: heavy artillery, tanks and planes, he said.
Lysychansk, located on a steep river bank opposite Sievierodonetsk, is also under relentless Russian artillery bombardment. At least one civilian was killed and three others wounded the day before when the Russians massed more than 100 multiple rocket launchers to “hit entire blocks,” the governor said.
The British Defense Ministry said Russian forces had probably advanced more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) into the southern approaches to Lysychansk since Sunday.
“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled,” the statement said. “Russia’s better performance in this sector is probably the result of the recent reinforcement of units and the heavy concentration of fire.”
The Ukrainian military said the Russians were also moving to seize hills overlooking a road linking Lysychansk with Bakhmut to the southwest in an attempt to cut off Ukrainian forces’ supply lines.
Haidai said the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway was not used due to heavy Russian shelling. Ukrainian forces are receiving supplies through an alternate route.
Following a failed attempt to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in the initial stage of the invasion on February 24, Russian forces shifted their focus to the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been battling Moscow-backed separatists. since 2014.
The Russian military controls about 95% of Luhansk province and about half of neighboring Donetsk province, the two areas that make up the Donbas.
European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have made Ukraine a candidate for membership in the 27-nation bloc, along with Moldova, in a historic push that ties them closer to the West than Russia.
However, countries’ admission to the EU will likely take years. In the case of Ukraine, that is due both to the war and to the reforms that the Ukrainian government must make to meet European standards.
A Ukrainian politician and TV personality said an online fundraising campaign aimed at helping Ukraine buy three offensive drones has raised $10.4 million in 24 hours.
Serhiy Prytula credited “incredible” support among Ukrainians after his charitable foundation placed a $15 million order the day before for the purchase of Bayraktar drones like the ones Ukrainian forces have already used to defend against Russian invaders. .
He tweeted: “$4.6 million left. The People’s Bayraktar project is already a nationwide crowdfunding. Let’s make it international!”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that her country had offered its expertise to help protect Ukraine’s ports and the safe passage of Ukrainian grain export ships.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. Russia’s invasion and blockade of Ukrainian ports have stopped much of that flow and left millions of tons of grain stuck in silos, jeopardizing the food supply of many developing countries, especially in Africa.
“It is urgent that action be taken within the next month before the new harvest, and we are determined to work with our allies to achieve this,” Truss told a news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, during a visit to Ankara. to discuss ways to end the blockade.
Turkey wants to bring together the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine to organize a UN plan to allow the safe shipment of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports. Cavusoglu said a possible deal could establish a “safe zone” just outside Ukraine’s territorial waters.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that Russia destroyed more than 2,000 schools and other educational institutions during the war.
In a video addressed to students and professors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Zelenskyy said that in areas where Russian troops have made rapid advances, “civilians are shot, refugees are killed in the streets, people are tortured and raped.” , including minors, girls and boys. Kids.’
Zelenskyy also expressed disappointment that Israel did not join Western-led sanctions against Russia or provide military aid to Ukraine to propel its forces into the war.
Israel relies on good ties with Russia for security coordination in Syria, where Russia has troops and where Israel carries out frequent strikes against enemy targets. It has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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