According to Zelensky, the fate of Donbass lies in the city of Severodonetsk

Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting one of the “hardest battles” in Severodonetsk since the start of the war to counter Russian forces, which now control much of this strategic eastern city, where President Volodymyr Zelensky says the Donbass region is playing a “fate” role.

“We are defending our positions, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. This is a very difficult, very difficult battle, probably one of the hardest in this war,” the Ukrainian president said in a video released Wednesday night.

For Russia, capturing the city would be crucial to conquering the entire vast Donbass coal basin, which has been partially held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

“The fate of our Donbass is largely being decided there,” Mr. Zelensky said.

Last week, Severodonetsk seemed on the verge of falling into the hands of the Russian army, but Ukrainian troops counterattacked and managed to hold on, despite their numerical minority. However, Russian troops are recovering.

According to a lawyer for the Ukrainian tycoon, whose company owns the facility, about 800 civilians are trapped at the city’s Azot chemical plant, where they have taken refuge.

The Ukrainian authorities did not confirm this information.

The situation is more complicated in other parts of Donbass.

The neighboring city of Lysychansk is fully controlled by the Ukrainian army, but is under “heavy” shelling, Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai said, accusing Russian troops of “deliberate” shelling of hospitals and drug distribution centers. “Humanitarian aid”.

In the city of Bakhmut on Wednesday, a school was completely destroyed by shelling, burnt books can be seen among the rubble, AFP journalists reported. No casualties were reported.

So far, Moscow’s armed forces have made only slow progress, prompting Western analysts to say that the Russian invasion, launched on February 24, has turned into a war of attrition, with limited successes at the cost of mass destruction and heavy losses.

– “Nobody will help me” –

While many civilians evacuated Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, several thousand remained – the elderly, people caring for them, or those who could not afford to go elsewhere.

Ivan Sosnine, 19, was left to care for his frail grandmother.

“This is our home. We don’t know anything anymore, we grew up here. Where would we go? And we don’t have enough money to stay anywhere else for a long time, ”explains the young man among the rubble of his house. the house is largely destroyed.

“Every day there is bombing, every day something is burning,” said Yuri Krasnikov, who sits in the Lysychansk area with many damaged buildings and burned-out pavilions, and artillery is roaring nearby.

“I have no one to help,” complains the pensioner, who feels abandoned.

Faced with pressure from troops in Moscow, Ukrainians are reiterating that they urgently need more powerful weapons.

Washington and London have announced the supply of multiple rocket launchers with a range of about 80 km, which is slightly longer than in Russia, but when Ukrainians will be able to start using them is unknown.

So far, they were satisfied with Western weapons of shorter range.

– “Wave of Famine” –

More than 100 days after the Russian offensive, the effects of the war continue to worsen in the world, both financially and in food and energy, affecting 1.6 billion people, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

“The impact of the war on food security, energy and finance is systemic, serious and accelerating.”

“For people around the world, war threatens to unleash an unprecedented wave of famine and unhappiness, leaving social and economic chaos,” Guterres warned.

“There is only one way to stop this storm: the Russian invasion of Ukraine must stop.”

The blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, starting with Odessa, the country’s main port, is paralyzing grain exports, including wheat, which it used to be the world’s third-largest exporter before the war. .

The first to suffer were countries in Africa and the Middle East that fear serious food crises.

Currently, about 20-25 million tons are blocked, the amount of which may triple to 75 million tons by the fall, according to the President of Ukraine.

Although Moscow blames the West for the deficit due to their sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss “safe maritime corridors” to resume grain transportation in the Black Sea. . .

– Rapid inflation –

At the request of the UN, Turkey offered to help escort sea convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines.

During a press conference, Mr Lavrov assured that Russia was “ready to guarantee the safety of ships leaving Ukrainian ports (…) in co-operation with our Turkish counterparts”.

For Mr. Cavusoglu, Moscow’s request to lift sanctions that indirectly affect the export of its agricultural products was “legitimate” to facilitate Ukrainian exports.

He, in particular, cited Russia’s exports of “grain and fertilizers”, which are not a direct target of Western sanctions, but de facto hinder the suspension of banking and financial exchanges.

Rising prices are also hitting hard in Russia, where inflation has risen sharply to a 20-year high. However, in May, it began to decline, according to official figures, still reaching 17.1% for the year.

For its part, sanctions against Moscow are destroying 15 years of Russia’s economic progress and three decades of integration with the West, according to a report by the Institute of International Finance (IFF) released on Wednesday.

The IIF forecasts a 15% contraction in the Russian economy this year and another 3% in 2023.

The war forced about 6.5 million Ukrainians to flee their countries and killed thousands: at least 4,200 civilians, according to the latest UN estimates of “much higher,” and thousands of soldiers, even if the warring parties rarely report their losses.