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Ukrainian Officials Describe Intensity Of Battles In East As Russia Ties Unblocking Of Ports To Sanctions Relief

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service May 26, 2022

The military situation in eastern Ukraine is even worse than people say it is, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on May 26 as Russian forces continue to thrust ahead in the Donbas.

Kuleba made the statement during a live question-and-answer session with Twitter users in which he also said the country needs heavy weapons now to effectively fight Russia and said peace talks with Moscow are not really taking place.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told a press briefing that battles in the east had reached "maximum intensity," with Russian forces storming positions simultaneously.

"We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us," she said.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 26, said during the call he felt not even a glimmer of hope for peace.

Draghi told a news conference that he did, however, feel a readiness on Putin's part to try to find a solution to the international food crisis.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Draghi that Russia "is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted."

Britain immediately accused Russia of "trying to hold the world to ransom," insisting there would be no sanctions relief.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin had "essentially weaponized hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world."

Speaking during a visit to Sarajevo, she said any appeasement "will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term."

The White House said there were no talks being held about relaxing sanctions on Russia in order to get grain exports.

Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil, but Russian forces are currently blocking Ukraine's Black Sea ports, endangering world food supplies.

The international community has been calling on Russia to unblock the ports and allow the export of Ukrainian grain.

The Russian Defense Ministry has proposed a corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports and another to allow vessels to leave Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle but was not sure if it could trust Russia.

The question is how to ensure that "Russia will not violate the agreement on the safe passage and its military vessels will not sneak into the harbor and attack Odesa," he said.

Russian forces briefly reached the last highway out of two key cities which they have been attempting to encircle as Western leaders reiterated that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not win the war.

Russian forces shelled 40 towns in the easternmost pocket still held by Kyiv in the Donbas, Ukraine's military said on May 26.

Russians were advancing on the key twin cities of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, which lie on either side of the Siverskiy Donets River, with the fighting reaching the limits of Syevyerodonetsk.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of Luhansk Province, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were retreating, but said the last road out of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk, which straddle the Siversky Donets river, remained outside of Russian control.

"The Russian Army has thrown all its forces into the fight to capture the Luhansk region. There is heavy fighting on the outskirts of Syevyerodonetsk in one direction. They are simply destroying the city," Hayday said.

Hayday said in an interview posted on social media, that "some 50" Russian soldiers had reached the highway linking Lysychansk to Ukrainian-held Bakhmut, and "managed to gain a foothold for some time" before being "thrown back."

Hayday said Ukrainian forces "are slowly retreating to more fortified positions," and indicated that further Ukrainian withdrawals would follow as "we need to win the war, not the battle."

The head of the local military-civil administration in Syevyerodonetsk said the city has been under "constant fire" for the past week-and-a-half, and 90 percent of housing has been damaged by the fighting.

Oleksandr Stryuk, speaking to Ukraine's NV radio station, said some 12,000-13,000 people are still thought to be in the city that had a pre-war population of 100,000 -- many of them sheltering in basements.

The fall of the two cities would leave the whole of Luhansk Province under Russian control, one of the Kremlin's goals in its war.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official said at a briefing on May 26 that Russian forces have made incremental progress in the northeastern Donbas region.

The strategy of encircling the whole Donbas region hasn't worked, the official said, so the Russians have started trying to pinch off the far eastern elements of the Ukrainian forces between Syevyerodonetsk and Popasna. It is still an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces and cut them off but on a smaller scale, the official said.

The official also provided an accounting of the equipment losses of the Russian forces in the war thus far, saying they were "not insignificant."

The losses include almost 1,000 tanks, 350 artillery pieces, almost three dozen fighter aircraft, and more than 50 helicopters. But the official said the Russian military still has a lot of capability left.

Despite its current momentum, Russia cannot win, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 26.

Scholz said that three months of war, "the capture of the whole of Ukraine seems further away now than at the beginning of the war."

"Putin must not win his war, and I am convinced he will not win," Scholz said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and the BBC

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-attacks-ukraine- lysychansk/31869251.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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