“We are defending our positions, inflicting significant losses on the enemy. It is a very hard, very difficult battle, probably one of the most difficult of this war,” said the Ukrainian president in a video released Wednesday evening.

For Russia, getting hold of this city would be decisive in order to conquer the entire vast coal basin of Donbass, already partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

“In many respects, the fate of our Donbass is decided there,” said Mr. Zelensky.

Last week, Severodonetsk seemed on the verge of falling into the hands of the Russian army, but the Ukrainian troops counter-attacked and managed to hold their ground, despite their numerical inferiority. However, Russian forces are regaining ground.

Some 800 civilians are trapped in the city’s Azot chemical plant, where they have taken refuge, according to the lawyer of a Ukrainian tycoon whose company owns the installation.

The Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed this information.

The situation is more complicated in other parts of Donbass.

The neighboring town of Lysychansk is fully controlled by the Ukrainian army but is under “powerful” shelling, said Sergey Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, accusing Russian forces of “deliberately” targeting hospitals and drug distribution centers. ‘humanitarian aid.

In the city of Bakhmut, a school was completely destroyed by bombardment on Wednesday, with burnt books visible among the rubble, according to AFP journalists. No injuries or deaths were reported.

Moscow’s forces have made only slow progress so far, leading Western analysts to say that the Russian invasion launched on February 24 had turned into a war of attrition, with limited advances achieved at the cost of massive destruction and heavy losses.

– “No one to help me” –

While many civilians evacuated Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, several thousand remained there – elderly people, people caring for them or those who could not afford to go elsewhere.

19-year-old Ivan Sossnine stayed behind to look after his infirm grandmother.

“Here is our home. We don’t know anything else, we grew up here. Where would we go? And we don’t have enough money to stay long elsewhere”, explains the young man in the middle of the rubble of his house largely destroyed.

“Every day, there are bombardments, every day something burns”, testifies Yuri Krassnikov, seated in a district of Lysytchansk with many damaged buildings and charred pavilions, while artillery rumbles not far from there.

“There is no one to help me,” laments this retiree who feels abandoned.

Faced with pressure from troops in Moscow, the Ukrainians repeat that they urgently need more powerful weapons.

The delivery of multiple rocket launcher systems, with a range of some 80 km, slightly greater than the Russian systems, has been announced by Washington and London, but it is unclear when the Ukrainians will be able to start using them.

They have so far been content with Western weapons of lesser range.

– “Wave of hunger” –

More than 100 days after the Russian offensive, the consequences of the war continue to worsen in the world, both in terms of finance and food and energy, affecting 1.6 billion people, alerted on Wednesday the Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres.

“The impact of war on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe and accelerating.”

“For people around the world, war threatens to unleash an unprecedented wave of hunger and misery, leaving social and economic chaos in its wake,” Guterres warned.

“There is only one way to stop this brewing storm: the Russian invasion of Ukraine must stop.”

The blocking of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea fleet – starting with that of Odessa, the country’s main port – paralyzes its grain exports, particularly wheat, of which it was before the war on the way to becoming the third largest exporter in the world.

African and Middle Eastern countries are the first to be affected and fear serious food crises.

Some 20 to 25 million tonnes are currently blocked, quantities which could triple by “by the fall” to reach 75 million tonnes, according to the Ukrainian president.

While Moscow accuses the West of being the cause of this shortage because of their sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss “secure maritime corridors” that would allow to resume grain transport in the Black Sea.

– Skyrocketing inflation –

At the request of the UN, Turkey offered to help escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines.

During a press conference, Mr. Lavrov assured that Russia was “ready to guarantee the safety of ships leaving Ukrainian ports (…) in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues”.

For Mr. Cavusoglu, Moscow’s request to lift the sanctions which indirectly affect its agricultural exports, to facilitate Ukrainian exports, was “legitimate”.

He specifically cited Russian “grain and fertilizer” exports, which are not directly targeted by Western sanctions but are de facto prevented by the suspension of banking and financial exchanges.

Rising prices are also hitting Russia hard, where inflation has skyrocketed to a twenty-year high. However, it began to decline in May, still reaching 17.1% over one year, according to official data.

For their part, the sanctions imposed on Moscow are wiping out 15 years of Russian economic progress and three decades of integration with the West, according to a report by the Institute of International Finance (IFF). ) released on Wednesday.

The IIF predicts a contraction of the Russian economy by 15% this year and another 3% in 2023.

The war has driven some 6.5 million Ukrainians to flee their country and caused thousands of deaths: at least 4,200 civilians, according to the latest UN assessment, which estimates the real figures “considerably higher”, and thousands of soldiers, even if the belligerents rarely communicate about their losses.