Ukraine ignored a Russian ultimatum to hand over the eastern city of Severodonetsk on Wednesday, as defense ministers from the Western military alliance North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) met in Brussels to discuss sending more heavy weapons to replenish Kiev’s dwindling stockpiles.
Russia had told Ukrainian forces hiding in a chemical factory in the destroyed city to stop the “meaningless resistance and lay down arms” from Wednesday morning, pressing in the battle for control of eastern Ukraine.
Plans announced by Moscow to open a humanitarian corridor for civilians trapped in the factory were interrupted by Ukrainian bombing, Russian-backed separatists said, according to the RIA news agency. The separatists planned to take civilians into territory under their own control.
Smoke after Russian bombing in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on May 30, 2022 — Photo: Aris Messinis / AFP
Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped along with soldiers inside the Azot chemical plant, where its forces have held out for weeks under Russian bombing that has reduced much of Severodonetsk to ruins.
Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said after the morning deadline expired that Russian forces were trying to invade the city from various directions, but Ukrainian forces continued to defend it.
“We are trying to push the enemy into the center of the city,” he said on television, without referring to the ultimatum. “This is an ongoing situation with partial successes and tactical retreats.”
“Escape routes are dangerous, but there are some,” he said.
Russian troops circulating in the Luhansk region — Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/REUTERS
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region where Severodonetsk is situated, said the army was defending the city and keeping Russian forces out of Lysychansk, the Ukrainian-controlled twin city on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets River.
“However, the Russians are close and the population is suffering and houses are being destroyed,” he posted online shortly before the deadline given by Russia.
Luhansk is one of two eastern provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of separatist representatives. Together they form the Donbas, a Ukrainian industrial region where Russia has focused its attack after failing to conquer Ukraine’s capital Kiev in March.
British intelligence reported that the chemical plant’s fighters could survive underground and that Russian forces would likely remain focused on them.
Ukrainian soldiers talk to a resident whose house was hit by Russian bombing in eastern Luhansk, part of the region where Russia has been fighting Ukrainian troops for weeks, on June 3, 2022. — Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenk/ Reuters
But Ukrainian forces on the eastern front were exhausted and outnumbered, said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield reports.