“A humanitarian corridor will be opened […] June 15” from 05:00 GMT to 17:00 GMT, the Russian Defense Ministry said, assuring that it would guarantee “the safe evacuation of all civilians, without exception”.
According to the head of the administration of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Striouk, “540 to 560 people” have taken refuge in the underground passages of the vast Azot chemical plant, emblematic of this industrial city in eastern Ukraine. This situation is reminiscent of that of the Azovstal steelworks, which for weeks was the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the port of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov.
The Russian ministry called on Ukrainians to raise the white flag to signal that they accept this proposal and to end “absurd resistance”.
But far from accepting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his compatriots on Tuesday evening to “hold on” in the Donbass, a “vital” region in his eyes and on which the continuation of the war launched by Moscow on February 24 against its country.
“It is vital to stay in the Donbass,” Mr. Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation broadcast on Telegram, “the defense of the region is essential to give an indication of who will dominate in the coming weeks.”
Severonetsk and Lyssytchansk, two twin cities of around 100,000 inhabitants, have been at stake for several days in a fierce battle. The fall of these two cities would allow Russian forces to target Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region, some 70 km to the west. And beyond that, it will allow Moscow to take control of all of Donbass, a mainly Russian-speaking mining region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
“You have to hold on,” Mr. Zelensky said, “the more the enemy suffers losses there, the less strength he will have to continue his aggression.”
According to the NGO Norwegian Refugee Council, some 500 civilians are refugees in the Azot factory in Severonetsk, “almost completely cut off from all supplies”.
However, Ukrainian officials deny any encirclement of their forces at this stage. “The city is not isolated, there are communication routes even if they are quite complicated,” said Striouk.
According to an AFP journalist on site, the roads between Kramatorsk and Lysychansk are used to transport weapons, including Grad multiple rocket launchers and artillery guns, while special vehicles transport tanks in need of repair.
Like Severodonetsk, Lyssytchansk is now practically deserted, with severed electric cables, charred shops.
“The Russians are bombing the city center all the time,” a local policeman told AFP. “It’s 24 hours a day, + non stop +”, adds his colleague.
To curb the Russian advance, kyiv continues to demand weapons from the West. But we [n’avons] received [qu’]about 10%” of the weapons that Ukraine “needs”, and without which “we will not be able to win this war”, deplored Deputy Defense Minister Anna Maliar.
“Yes, Ukraine should have more heavy weapons,” assured NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday evening on the eve of a meeting in Brussels of the Contact Group for NATO. Ukraine around US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
NATO has started to “step up” its arms deliveries to kyiv, he added, noting that the Ukrainians are “absolutely dependent on (these deliveries) to deal with Russia’s brutal aggression”.
The Contact Group for Ukraine is meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss a possible acceleration of these arms deliveries, on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial meeting in the Belgian capital.
“Not done enough”
On the eve of the meeting, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen received Mr. Stoltenberg and several European leaders, including the head of the Polish government Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country is a neighbor of Ukraine.
“We haven’t done enough to defend Ukraine, to support the Ukrainian people, their freedom and their sovereignty,” Morawiecki said during the same press conference as Mr. Stoltenberg.
“That’s why I urge you…to do much more to deliver weapons and artillery to Ukraine. They need it to defend their country,” he said. said, judging that Western countries would ruin their “credibility” in the event of Ukraine’s defeat by Russia. [)àenfairebeaucouppluspourlivrerdesarmesetdel’artillerieàl’UkraineIlsenontbesoinpourdéfendreleurpays”a-t-ilditjugeantquelespaysoccidentauxruineraientleur”crédibilité”encasdedéfaitedel’UkrainefaceàlaRussie
“It would be a total failure and a disaster for the European Union, our values, and for NATO,” he said.
Washington began to deliver heavy equipment to kyiv, including howitzers at first, then advanced equipment such as truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers (“Himars”) and high-precision artillery pieces and with a range slightly greater than that of the Russian army.
On the diplomatic level, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Romania on Tuesday evening to greet the 500 French soldiers who are deployed there on a NATO base. The French president, who assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union until June 30, will then travel to Moldova, before a possible visit to kyiv on Thursday.
Such a visit to Ukraine – which would be a first for the French president since the start of the Russian invasion – could take place in the company of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, according to German and Italian media.
The French presidency has not confirmed this information, assuring that “nothing has been done” at this stage.