“A humanitarian corridor will be opened in the direction of the north (to the city of Svatove) on June 15” from 05:00 GMT to 17:00 GMT, the Russian Defense Ministry said. “The safe evacuation of all civilians, without exception, (…) is guaranteed,” he said.

The Russian ministry has called on Ukrainians to raise the white flag to signal their acceptance of the proposal and to end “absurd resistance”, which now seems to be concentrated in the vast Azot chemical plant, emblematic of this industrial city in the east. from Ukraine.

According to the head of the administration of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Striouk, “540 to 560 people” have taken refuge in the underground passages of the factory, a situation reminiscent of that of the Azovstal steelworks, which was for weeks during the last pocket of resistance Ukrainian port of Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately react to this proposed evacuation corridor.

According to the NGO Norwegian Refugee Council, which until recently had a large center in Severodonetsk, the situation is critical.

According to her, the approximately 500 civilian refugees in Azot are “almost entirely cut off from all supplies after the destruction of the last bridge” on Monday linking Severodonetsk to the neighboring town of Lyssytchansk, separated by the Donets river.

“We cannot overstate the gravity of the current situation for civilians trapped in Severodonetsk” due to the war, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the NGO, in a press release.

However, Ukrainian officials deny any encirclement of their forces at this stage.

While he acknowledged that a “third bridge” had been destroyed, “the city is not isolated, there are communication routes even if they are quite complicated,” Striouk said on Tuesday, adding that the Ukrainian forces “hold their ground”.

Russian and pro-Russian separatist forces have been trying to seize Severodonetsk for several weeks.

The capture of this administrative capital of 100,000 inhabitants, which the two armies have been fighting over for weeks, would give Moscow control of the Lugansk region and open the way to another large city, Kramatorsk, the region’s capital. neighbor of Donetsk. An essential step to conquer the entire Donbass basin, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

– “Terrifying” human cost –

On Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once again demanded “modern” weapons from Westerners, citing the “terrifying” human cost of the Battle of Severodonetsk. kyiv had reported 100 soldiers dead and 500 killed daily in battle last week.

A shell hit the peaceful garden of Maksym Katerine in Lysytchansk, with her piglets and chickens, instantly killing her mother Natalia and her husband Mykola, both 65 years old, found an AFP team.

“The bomb fell right here,” Maksym said, pointing to part of the garden. “I don’t know who did this, but if I did, I’d rip their arms off.”

Lyssytchansk, like Severodonetsk, is now practically deserted, with severed electric cables, charred shops, black smoke rising from houses.

“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.

The Russian army said it had launched missiles on “about twenty areas” of Donbass, as well as on the city of Kharkiv, further north. And having carried out air strikes on a hundred areas of “concentration of manpower and military equipment of the Ukrainian armed forces”.

– ‘More heavy weapons’ –

The head of the Ukrainian presidential administration Andriï Yermak also demanded on Tuesday on Telegram “more heavy weapons and rapid training of our soldiers. Everything else is perceived as weakness”.

Washington began to deliver heavy equipment to kyiv, including howitzers at first, then advanced equipment such as Himars multiple rocket launcher systems, high-precision artillery pieces with a short range superior to those of the Russian army.

An acceleration of deliveries should be discussed on Wednesday in Brussels, during a meeting of the Contact Group for Ukraine around the American Minister of Defense Lloyd Austin.

– Macron, Scholz and Draghi in Ukraine on Thursday? –

On the diplomatic level, Emmanuel Macron must go to Romania on Tuesday 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 visit Moldova, before a possible trip to kyiv on Thursday.

Such a visit to Ukraine – which would be a first for the French president since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24 – 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, stressing that “nothing has been done” at this stage.

Such a visit would come as the EU must decide, at a summit on June 23 and 24, whether to grant Ukraine official status as a candidate for membership of the European bloc. The European Commission must deliver its opinion before the end of the week.

“I think we have to give this signal to Ukraine, to be open to this candidacy”, declared the French Minister in charge of Europe Clément Beaune on France Inter radio. “We must give a positive signal as soon as possible”.

But he reiterated that candidate status was just the start of a process of joining that “takes time” – years or even decades.

Another diplomatic front: the fate of the two Britons and the Moroccan sentenced to death by the pro-Russian separatists for “mercenarism”, for having fought alongside the Ukrainians in Mariupol.

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss said on Tuesday that she was doing “everything possible” to obtain the release of her nationals, without revealing her strategy.

London has not yet asked Moscow to intervene in favor of the two Britons, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“It will all depend on a request from London, of course, but I’m sure the Russian side will be ready to listen,” he added. He nevertheless stressed that the United Kingdom should also address the pro-Russian separatist authorities in Donetsk, a self-proclaimed state that only Russia has recognized, a few days before launching its vast military offensive against Ukraine.

– Fighting in the south –

Besides eastern Ukraine, fighting is also raging in the south of the country. During the night from Monday to Tuesday, the Southern Command of Ukrainian troops reported air battles and Russian helicopter attacks on Ukrainian positions in Mikolaiv and Kherson.

In Mikolaiv, a major port on the Dnieper estuary, the Russian advance was stopped on the outskirts of the city and the Ukrainian army dug trenches there, noted an AFP team.

The Ukrainians fear that the Russians will soon organize a referendum in the Kherson region – close to the Crimean peninsula – and other areas occupied by Russian forces, with a view to annexation to Russia.