Ukrainian troops suffered setbacks after retaking parts of flashpoint eastern city Severodonetsk, where President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday warned his forces were outnumbered by a “stronger” Russian side.

“We’re holding out” in the key city but “there are more of them and they are stronger,” Zelensky told journalists in Kyiv, adding that Severodonetsk and neighbouring Lysychansk were both “dead cities now”.

With fighting raging in and around Severodonetsk, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blasted European countries for blocking his plane from travelling to Serbia. “The unthinkable has happened… This was a deprivation of a sovereign state of the right to carry out foreign policy,” Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.

Lavrov had been due to hold talks with top officials in Belgrade, one of Moscow’s few remaining allies in Europe since the launch of its military offensive in Ukraine.

Lavrov repeated Moscow’s threat of retaliation if the West supplied more long-range weapons to Ukraine as promised, while Zelensky warned that the blockade on the country’s grain stocks could get worse.

With Russia bringing the weight of its artillery to bear around Severodonetsk — the largest city in the Lugansk region not under Russian control — more help was promised from abroad.

The United Kingdom said it would follow the United States and send long-range missile systems to Ukraine, defying Russian warnings against supplying them to Kyiv.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes since President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukraine on February 24.

Russian forces continued their offensive on several other fronts in the east of Ukraine, with Kyiv saying it had repulsed seven attacks around Donetsk and Lugansk.

The Russian defence ministry said its aircraft had hit three arms depots and a fuel storage facility near the village of Kodema, in the Donetsk region.

The situation in Kherson region in the south is “critical”, Kyiv said, given the absence of “mobile and internet networks, food supplies, medicine and cash”. Three civilians were killed in Black Sea resort Lazurne, where Russians have mined the coast, the authorities said.

Renewed Russian long-range missile strikes in the northeastern Kharkiv region hit what Moscow said was a factory for repairing armoured vehicles near Lozova. At least 10 civilians have been killed in the region in 24 hours, Kyiv said.

“The enemy is stepping up” attacks on infrastructure including roads and “creating railway pontoon bridges across rivers” around Kharkiv, the Ukrainian defence ministry said.

Russian troops now occupy a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, according to Kyiv, and Moscow has imposed a blockade on its Black Sea ports, sparking fears of a global food crisis.

Zelensky warned on Monday the volume of grain his country is unable to export because of a Russian blockade could at least triple by the autumn.


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