“We have had some success in the battle for Severodonetsk. But it is still too early. This is the most difficult area at the moment,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday evening, referring to a similar situation in the surrounding area, particularly in Lyssytchansk and in Bakhmout.

Concerning the Donbass region as a whole, he indicated that the situation had not “changed significantly during the day”. He had indicated a little earlier that the situation in the east was “really difficult (…) We are losing 60 to 100 soldiers a day, killed in action, and some 500 are wounded”.

“Today we are fighting and holding every meter of the Lugansk region,” Serguii Gaïdaï, governor of this territory, said Friday morning. “And, despite all the declarations of the Russians, we celebrate his birthday under the Ukrainian flag.”

“For 100 days, they have been destroying everything that stood out in the Lugansk region,” he added, saying that more than 400 km of “European standard roads” had been destroyed as well as 33 hospitals, 237 rural clinics, near of 70 schools and 50 kindergartens.

The day before, he had said that Severodonetsk, the administrative capital of Donbass, was “80% occupied” by Russian forces and that fighting is raging in the streets.

Russian forces currently control “about 20%” of Ukrainian territory, or nearly 125,000 km2, the Ukrainian president said Thursday.

Before the invasion, Russian or pro-Russian forces controlled 43,000 km2 there, since the annexation of Crimea and the capture of a third of Donbass in 2014. Since February 24, they have notably advanced in the east and south , along the Black and Azov seas, now controlling a strategic coastal corridor linking eastern Russia with Crimea.

After the failure of their lightning offensive to bring down the government of kyiv, the Russian forces concentrate on the conquest of Donbass where a war of attrition is now being played out.

Ukrainian leaders have in recent days accused Moscow of wanting to make Severodonetsk a “new Mariupol”. This strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov, conquered in mid-May after the surrender of more than 2,000 Ukrainian fighters who had taken refuge in the Azovstal steelworks, was largely destroyed by Russian shelling.

Russian pressure also remains significant on Donetsk, the other Donbass region, in particular Sloviansk, some 80 km west of Severodonetsk. Residents of the region lack gas, water and electricity in particular, according to kyiv.

Ukraine is awaiting deliveries of more powerful missile launcher systems promised by US President Joe Biden, hoping this will change the balance of power on the ground.

Russia said on Thursday that it had stopped the influx of foreign “mercenaries” wanting to fight alongside the kyiv army, by dint of inflicting heavy losses on them in recent weeks.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the number of foreign fighters has been “almost halved”, from 6,600 to 3,500, and “a large number” of them “prefer to leave” the country “as quickly as possible”. .

Railway lines in the Lviv region (west), where the weapons delivered to Ukraine by Western countries – aid denounced by Moscow – arrive in particular have been bombed.

In the south, the Ukrainians are worried about a possible annexation of the regions conquered by the Russian forces, Moscow evoking referendums as early as July.

In Mykolaiv, near Odessa, Russian bombardments left at least one dead and several injured in the civilian population, the Ukrainian command of the southern region said Thursday evening.

On the diplomatic level, the EU countries approved on Thursday a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow including an embargo, with exemptions, on the purchases of oil but renounced to blacklist the head of the Russian Orthodox Church , Patriarch Kirill, under pressure from Hungary.

– Agreement of 27 –

The text must still receive the written agreement of each member state for its publication on Friday in the Official Journal to allow the entry into force of the measures, specified the French presidency of the Council of the EU.

“European consumers will be the first to suffer from this decision. Not only the prices of oil but also those of petroleum products will increase. I do not exclude that there is a large deficit of petroleum products in the EU”, has said Russian Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Alexander Novak.

In the United States, the Biden administration has announced new sanctions targeting a series of oligarchs or members of Moscow’s “elite”, including the spokesperson for Russian diplomacy Maria Zakharova.

“I am grateful to President Biden, all our American friends and the people of the United States for their support,” Zelensky said Thursday evening.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that Western countries should prepare “for a war of attrition” in the “long term”.

The war in Ukraine “could end tomorrow, if Russia ended its aggression,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday at a press conference alongside US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken. But “we don’t see any signs in that direction at this stage,” he added.

The war waged by Russia in Ukraine will last “many months”, added Mr. Blinken.

burx-emd / elm / ybl