In the south, where the Ukrainian forces are on the other hand rather on the offensive, an attack caused the death of an official of the administration set up by the Russians in Kherson. This is the first time that the pro-Russian authorities have announced the death of one of their own in this type of attack, which is on the increase.

On Friday morning, Sergei Gaïdaï, governor of the province of Lugansk (east), where Severodonetsk is located, announced on Telegram that the Ukrainian armed forces had “received the order” to withdraw from the city.

Bombarded for weeks by Russian forces for lack of success in taking control, Severodonetsk is a crucial step in their plan to conquer the entire Donbass, an industrial basin in eastern Ukraine already partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

“It no longer makes sense to stay in positions that have been constantly bombarded for months”, when the city has been “almost reduced to ruins”, explained the governor.

Severodonetsk and its twin city Lyssychansk, located just across the Donets River, are now virtually surrounded by Russian forces, which are eating away at more territory every day.

Mykolaivka, a town about 20 kilometers southwest of Lysytchansk, is in the hands of the Russian army, said Mr Gaïdaï, adding that the Russians were now trying to “conquer Girské”, a neighboring town.

A representative of the pro-Russian separatists, Andrei Marochko, for his part affirmed on Telegram that all the villages in the Girské area were already under Russian control.

– “The price paid by Russia” –

The United States, however, on its side minimized the importance of the Ukrainian withdrawal on Friday, a senior Pentagon official underlining “the price paid by Russia for this very small gain”.

“The Russians are just managing to gain territory inch by inch.” What the Ukrainian forces are doing, “is consolidating their forces in positions where they can better defend themselves”, assured the press this senior official who requested anonymity.

However, Lysytchansk in turn seemed to be preparing for the arrival of the Russians.

At the entrance to the town, partly deprived of water, gas and electricity, soldiers were digging trenches.

Further south, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region, the other province of Donbass, told AFP on Thursday that “no city” in the area was “safe”, the fighting there being too much. violent.

– Many injured –

In Kramatorsk, a town located behind the front, a soldier identifying himself by his first name, Volodymyr, posted in front of the military hospital, testified to the large number of wounded brought from the front for weeks.

“We bring in a lot of guys,” about 40 percent of them with bruises and the rest with shrapnel wounds, he said.

As soon as the seriously injured are sufficiently stabilized, they are sent to better equipped hospitals in Ukrainian cities. “There is a high turnover, the guys do not stay more than 2-3 days” except those who are not transportable, he added.

“The guys I see here are very patriotic, I wouldn’t say they’re cannon fodder. They’re equipped with everything, but it’s the guns that are missing, damn it,” says- he again, pointing out the lack of heavy weapons available to the Ukrainian army.

In Kherson, one of the few major cities in the country conquered by the Russians in this conflict, “the head of the youth and sports family department, Dmitry Savlutchenko, is dead”, the deputy head of the pro-Russian administration, Kirill Stremoussov, denouncing, like Moscow, “an act of terrorism”.

According to the local administration, the official, killed in the explosion of his car, was the victim of a “targeted” attack.

In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have returned to the offensive in the area in an attempt to retake territories lost since the February 24 invasion. And the attacks targeting occupation officials, several of whom were injured, multiplied in parallel in the region of Kherson and the neighboring region of Zaporijjia.

Russia has also intensified its offensive on the large city of Kharkiv in the northeast for several days.

– “We are very afraid to go out” –

An AFP team on the spot heard loud explosions in the city center during the night, then noted on Friday morning that the Polytechnic Institute had been hit by several missiles. All the windows of the Soviet building were shattered and a huge reinforced concrete gymnasium was destroyed. According to a soldier present, there were no casualties.

An AFP team was able to go to Chuhuiv, a town located between Kharkiv and the Russian positions, to the south-east of the city. Six civilians died there on Wednesday evening while waiting for the bus. In the supermarket located next door, whose windows have been broken, people rush to buy the essentials while the sound of bombs rumbles on the horizon.

“We did not hear a siren and we are shocked. We are very afraid to leave our house but we cannot leave, we have elderly people who need us,” said Dmytro Shmakov, 26, driver, dressed all in black.

The Russian army for its part claimed to have killed with “high precision weapons” more than 200 foreign mercenaries and a hundred Ukrainian nationalists in the regions of Mykolaiv (south) and Kharkiv.

Undermined by Russian firepower, the Ukrainian forces are now pinning their hopes on the arrival of heavy weapons relentlessly demanded from Western allies, such as the American Himars multiple rocket launchers, of which kyiv has announced the arrival of the first copies on Thursday by predicting that “the summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers”.

At the border, the number of Ukrainians arriving in Poland this week exceeds that of returns, reversing the trend observed for more than a month, we learned from Polish border guards on Friday.

– “The price of blood” –

Thursday in Brussels, the 27 countries of the European Union had endorsed Ukraine’s candidacy, a highly symbolic step after four months of Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed a political “victory”, which he said his people had been waiting for since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

In Maidan Square, in the center of kyiv, residents showed their joy. “This is our first victory. A small one, before the big one. Our people fought and suffered for this, paying the price of blood, tears and lives,” said 20-year-old Darya Kostrova.

The decision of the Twenty-Seven “confirms that a geopolitical monopolization of the space of the CIS”, the Commonwealth of Independent States, which brings together several countries of the former USSR, “is actively continuing in order to contain Russia”, has said the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday.

In Brussels EU leaders were working this time on Friday on reducing their energy dependence on Moscow, which has started to reduce its gas deliveries.

As for the global food crisis, another corollary of the war launched by Russia, Mr. Putin blamed it on the “cynical” West, in front of some fifteen leaders from Africa and Asia meeting virtually for a top of the “Bric”.