Russian forces continued their offensive in eastern Ukraine, closing in on strategic towns and cities and shelling Kharkiv after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the northeastern city on his first trip outside Kyiv since the start of Russia’s massive invasion. scale.
Russian forces increased pressure on Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine after claiming they took the nearby town of Lyman, and Ukrainian authorities said defenders were holding out in desperate conditions in those strategic areas.
Luhansk Regional Governor Serhiy Hayday said the situation in Lysychansk had worsened significantly in recent hours and “there are dead and wounded.”
In Syevyerodonetsk, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces had carried out an assault operation, while Hayday said street-by-street fighting was taking place in the town on the Donets River.
On May 29, Zelenskiy paid a surprise visit to the northeastern city of Kharkiv, venturing outside the capital Kyiv for the first time since Russia’s unprovoked invasion began on February 24.
He visited soldiers in front-line positions and held a session with local officials, including Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov, regional administrator Oleh Synyehubov and members of the military command.
“They risk their lives for all of us and for our country,” Zelenskiy’s office told the president, telling the troops fighting there.
The presidential office posted a video on the Telegram messaging app of Zelenskiy wearing a bulletproof vest as he toured areas devastated by Russian shelling in and around the city in recent weeks.
Reuters reported that hours after Zelenskiy’s visit, several explosions were heard in the city and a large plume of smoke was visible northeast of the central area.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said Russian shelling had sparked fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Russia has maintained a bombardment of Kharkiv after Ukrainian fighters pushed their forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.
Russian forces turned their efforts towards the eastern part of Ukraine, specifically the Donbas region, after strong resistance prevented them from taking Kyiv at the beginning of the invasion.
In comments on French television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on May 29 that what he called the liberation of Ukraine’s Donbas region was an unqualified priority for Moscow. Other Ukrainian territories should decide their own future, he said.
The Ukrainian president’s office said Synyehubov told Zelenskiy that Ukrainian forces had made some progress in their counterattack against Russia’s latest offensive.
“But we are not yet able to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements, as shelling continues, or do full clearance and start rebuilding critical infrastructure,” Synyehubov said.
It added that Russian forces had damaged 2,229 high-rise buildings, of which 225 were completely ruined, in the Kharkiv region. He said Kharkiv’s northern and eastern districts had suffered the most damage, with more than 30 percent of homes destroyed.
Damage figures, as is common on both sides of the conflict, could not be immediately verified.
Earlier, in his late-night video address on May 28, Zelenskiy expressed the hope that the allies will provide the necessary weapons as Ukrainian forces try to stop the advance of the invading Russian forces in the east.
Zelenskiy said that he good news expected about the arms deliveries this week, without giving details.
Zelenskiy said the military situation in the Donbas region was complicated, adding that defenses were holding in several places, including Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, the last major areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region.
“It is indescribably difficult there. And I am grateful to everyone who resisted this attack,” he said.
Invading Russian forces are reported to have made gains in recent days in Donbas in eastern Ukraine, which comprises the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
The struggle for control of Syevyerodonetsk continues with Russian forces conducting assault operations on May 28, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on May 29.
“Using artillery, Russian forces carried out assault operations in the area of the city of Syevyerodonetsk,” the General Staff said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Hayday, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces had dug in at the Myr hotel in northern Syevyerodonetsk.
He said most of the Russian forces were unable to advance into the city center and were taking casualties, but also said Ukrainian troops could not currently “push them out of the hotel.”
Zelenskiy promised to maintain the Ukrainian resistance in the important city.
“About 90 percent of the buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the houses in the city have been completely destroyed. There is no telecommunications. There is constant shelling,” Zelenskiy said.
“Capturing Syevyerodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers… We are doing everything possible to maintain this advance,” he added.
Russian artillery was also hitting the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway, which Russia is to take to shut down a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces, and police said there was significant destruction in Lysychansk.
Ukrainian officials said on May 29 that Russian forces had been pushed out of Bakhmut, although details of the battlefield could not be immediately verified.
The British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence briefing on May 28 that if Russia succeeded in seizing those areas, the Kremlin would likely see it as a substantive political achievement, which it could use to justify its invasion to the Russian people.
In his late-night speech, Zelenskiy said that Ukraine was approaching the point where it would outnumber the Russians both technologically and in terms of its ability to strike.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States.
“Our country’s coastal defense will not only be enhanced by Harpoon missiles, they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page on May 28.
He said the Harpoon shore-to-ship missiles would be operated alongside Ukrainian Neptune missiles in defending the country’s coastline, including the southern port of Odessa.
Last month, the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, sank after what Ukraine says was an anti-ship missile attack. Moscow says a fire caused an explosion of ammunition.