Russian forces also shelled Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast on Thursday, which had returned to some semblance of normal life in recent weeks.

“The current occupiers’ offensive in the Donbass could render the region uninhabited,” Zelensky said in his Thursday night televised address, accusing the invaders of seeking to “burn down” Severodonetsk and others. towns in the region.

Russian forces practice “deportation” and “mass killing of civilians” in the Donbass, continued Mr. Zelensky, denouncing “an obvious policy of genocide carried out by Russia”.

Mr. Zelensky’s accusations echo those of Moscow, which justified its invasion by an alleged “genocide” practiced by the Ukrainians against the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass.

In April, the Ukrainian Parliament had already adopted a resolution describing the actions of the Russian army as “genocide”, and had urged all foreign countries and international organizations to do the same. US President Joe Biden has himself used this expression, while his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron refuses to do so.

– Attempt to encircle –

After failing to take kyiv and Kharkiv, the Russian army has refocused its efforts on the complete conquest of Donbass, an industrial basin already partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

Supported by a deluge of bombs, the Russian army threatens Severodonetsk, which could meet the same fate as Mariupol, a large port in the south-east which has been largely destroyed after weeks of siege.

The Russian army is trying to encircle the city and the neighboring one of Lyssytchansk, a senior Pentagon official told Washington. “We believe Russian forces were able to capture most of northeast Severodonetsk, although fighting is still ongoing,” he said.

According to the head of the civil and military administration of Severodonetsk, Alexander Stryuk, between 12,000 and 13,000 people are still in the city, which had 100,000 inhabitants before the war.

“Sixty percent of Severodonetsk’s housing stock has been destroyed, 85-90% of the city’s buildings have been damaged and will require major restoration,” he said, as quoted by Ukrainian media.

– Bombings in Kharkiv –

Air-raid sirens sounded again at dawn on Friday in Kharviv, where shelling the day before left 9 dead and 19 injured, all civilians according to Mr. Zelensky. A five-month-old baby and his father were notably killed, while the mother was seriously injured, the Ukrainian president said.

Missiles hit the residential area of ​​the Pavlové Polé district, in the center-north of the city, according to an AFP journalist on the spot. He saw a young man killed and four injured, all taken to hospital, including an older man with a severed leg and arm.

Russia had ceased its offensive on Kharkiv in mid-May to concentrate more troops in the east and south of Ukraine, and the city has begun a difficult return to normal in recent days, notably reopening the circulation of the metro.

Russian forces maintain positions east of Kharkiv. The Ukrainians dug new trenches around the city and set up concrete blocks, sandbags and road checkpoints, in preparation for a possible new assault.

Russia, which analysts say wants to consolidate territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine before any negotiated solution, dismissively rejected an Italian peace plan on Thursday.

This provided, under the guarantee of the UN, for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops, the entry of Ukraine into the EU but not into NATO, and a status of autonomy for the Donbass and Crimea which would remain under Ukrainian sovereignty.

– “Railway bridge” –

While Ukraine is currently unable to export its grain due to the blockade of its ports, President Vladimir Putin has said he is ready to help “overcome the food crisis” that this entails, provided it is preceded by lifting of sanctions against Moscow.

In an attempt to circumvent the blockade, Germany has set up a “railway bridge” with Ukraine to help kyiv export its grain, said the next head of US forces in Europe, General Chris Cavoli.

On the southern front, Russia is busy consolidating its hold on the territories conquered for three months. She thus announced that she was going to allow the inhabitants of the regions of Zaporijjia and Kherson to apply for a Russian passport via “a simplified procedure”. Ukraine has denounced a “forced” granting of Russian nationality demonstrating Moscow’s desire to lead a pure and simple annexation of these territories.

And in Mariupol, a town hall official announced on Thursday that the children would, instead of the summer holidays, follow a program of “de-Ukrainization” and preparation for the Russian program, including language lessons, of literature and history.