July 3, 2022

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Ukraine takes tentative step toward EU membership as Donbass battles reach 'frightening climax'

Ukrainians prepare to withdraw from besieged Sievierodonetsk as Russians advance

  • Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union will strengthen Europe – Zelensky
  • Ukrainian forces take new positions in Sievierodonetsk
  • Russia bombs targets across the Donbass River
  • The war marks four months since the invasion

Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine on Friday signaled the withdrawal of its forces from the city of Severodonetsk, which has seen weeks of fierce fighting, in a move that would be a major setback in its struggle to defeat Russian forces.

Provincial Governor Serhi Gedayi said troops in the city had already received orders to move to new locations, but he did not indicate if they had already done so or where exactly they would go.

“Staying in positions that have been smashed to pieces for several months just to stay there does not make sense,” Gaidai told Ukrainian television.

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He said the troops “must withdraw”.

Gaidai was speaking on the day marking four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops across the border, sparking a conflict that has so far claimed thousands of combatants and civilians, uprooted several million people, and seen Ukrainian cities blown to bits by artillery. Russian air raids.

The war also fueled a global energy and food crisis.

Some of the fiercest battles of the war erupted in Severodonetsk, where street-to-street fighting raged for a month as Russia narrowly gained control of more territory.

The battle is essential for Russia to establish its control over the last remaining piece of Ukrainian territory in Luhansk Province, which together with Donetsk makes up the Donbass region, the industrial heart of Ukraine.

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The fall of Severodonetsk left only the city of Lysichansk – its sister city on the west bank of the Severodonetsk River – in the hands of the Ukrainians.

Russian tactics since its forces failed to capture the capital, Kyiv, in the early stages of the war included fierce bombardment of cities and towns, followed by attacks by ground forces.

Analysts say the Russian forces are suffering heavy losses and facing problems with leadership, supplies and morale. However, they are crushing the Ukrainian resistance and making increasing gains in the east and south.

The Ukrainian General Staff said, on Friday, that the Russians were firing from tanks, mortars, artillery and aircraft, in addition to launching air strikes near Lyschansk, Severodonetsk and neighboring towns. Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.

EU support

Despite the difficulties that Ukraine faced on the battlefield, it was reinforced with the support of the West. European leaders on Thursday approved Ukraine’s formal candidacy to join the European Union.

Although the journey to full membership would take years, the move was a boost to Ukrainian morale — and would anger Putin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday that their decision to accept Kyiv’s candidacy was among Ukraine’s most important since its separation from the Soviet Union 31 years ago.

“But this decision was not made solely in the interests of Ukraine,” he said. “It is the biggest step toward strengthening Europe that could have been taken now…when the Russian war will test our ability to maintain freedom and unity.”

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Moscow launched what it called its “special military operation” on February 24, saying it wanted to ensure security on its borders. Kyiv and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked invasion to seize Ukrainian territory and return the country to the Moscow fold.

Russian control of the Donbass River would allow it to connect to the already occupied Crimea peninsula in the south, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Russian General Staff said that Russian forces were obstructing Ukrainian naval communications in the northwestern part of the Black Sea and were seeking to resume the offensive in the Mykolaiv region.

Mykolaiv, a river port and shipbuilding center off the Black Sea, was a bulwark against Russian efforts to head west toward the main port city of Odessa in Ukraine.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Michael Perry and Angus McSwan; Editing by Himani Sarkar and William Maclean

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.