Russia said on Tuesday it would establish a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from a chemical plant in Severodonetsk, as the two sides battled for control of the key city in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Russian forces have stepped up efforts to cut off the Ukrainian troops still in the industrial hub, destroying all three bridges which connect it across a river to Lysychansk.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had offered Ukrainian fighters sheltering in the Azot chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian town of Sievierodonetsk the chance to surrender on Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile once again appealed for heavy weapons from the West, criticising the “restrained behaviour” of some European leaders.
Moscow has for weeks targeted the twin cities as the last areas in the Lugansk region of the Donbas still under Ukrainian control.
Communication with the city was “complicated” with the situation on the ground changing every hour, the head of Severodonetsk’s administration, Oleksandr Stryuk, told Ukrainian television. Around 500 civilians were taking shelter under “heavy fire” in the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, Stryuk said. The Russian defence ministry said it was “ready to organise a humanitarian operation” on Wednesday to evacuate from the plant to the separatist-controlled part of the Lugansk region.
Regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said Ukraine’s forces had been pushed back from Severodonetsk’s centre with the Russians controlling 70 to 80 percent of the city in their attempt to “encircle it”. Capturing Severodonetsk would open the road to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk, in Moscow’s push to conquer Donbas, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.