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War in Ukraine: the situation on the ground on the 85th day

While the Russian army is struggling to make significant progress on the ground, Moscow seems to have started a purge within the military command, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

“In recent weeks, Russia has dismissed senior officers whom it blames for poor performance”, like a lieutenant general “suspended for failing to take the city of Kharkiv” (northeast), just like the admiral commanding the Russian fleet in the Black Sea “after the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in April”.

On the 85th day of the war, which since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24 has claimed many civilian victims, here is an update on the situation based on information from AFP journalists on site, official statements Ukrainian and Russian, Western sources, analysts and international organizations.

At least 12 people were killed and 40 others injured Thursday in Russian bombardments fed on the city of Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine, almost surrounded by forces from Moscow, announced the regional governor.

The Russians “started to bombard the regional center in the morning in a random manner with heavy weapons. The bombardments continue”, indicated on Telegram Serguiï Gaïdaï.

Russian forces “continue to prepare an assault on Severodonetsk and intensify their operations around Lyman”, another city now almost surrounded, underlines the American Institute for War Studies (ISW).

Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk constitute the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance (Lugansk region). The Russians now surrounded the two, separated only by a river, and bombarded them relentlessly to wear down the resistance and prevent the arrival of reinforcements.

An AFP team on the spot observed that Severodonetsk was engulfed in a deluge of artillery. Residents have had no access to water, electricity or gas for several weeks.

– South –

Russia announced Thursday the surrender of 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers from the Azovstal steel site in Mariupol, showing images of men, some helped by crutches, emerging after a long battle that has become a global symbol of resistance to the Russian invasion.

These soldiers, including 80 wounded, have been out since Monday and “have become prisoners”, said the Russian Ministry of Defense.

They had been entrenched for several weeks in the maze of underground galleries dug in Soviet times under the gigantic steelworks.

Several recent declarations by senior Russian officials show that Russia is more generally preparing the lasting occupation or even the annexation of the territories of southern Ukraine that it controls: the region of Kherson and a good part of that of Zaporijjia.

Joe Biden welcomed Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Thursday to show his enthusiastic support for the two countries joining NATO.

The two countries meet “all the criteria”, he said. Turkey opposes it but NATO wants to respond to Ankara’s “concerns”, promised its secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

– Perpetuity required –

The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office on Thursday demanded life imprisonment, the maximum sentence, against the first Russian soldier tried for war crimes in kyiv, accused of having killed a civilian at the end of February.

On the second day of the trial, Vadim Chichimarine, 21, asked his victim’s widow for forgiveness.

– At the bedside of the economy –

The big moneymakers of the G7 met Thursday in Germany to try to keep Ukraine’s finances afloat and assess the repercussions of the war on the world economy: inflation linked in particular to soaring energy prices, threats food crisis, the specter of over-indebtedness in many developing countries.

– Tens of thousands dead –

There is no overall assessment of the civilian victims of the conflict. In Mariupol alone, the Ukrainian authorities spoke several weeks ago of 20,000 dead. And Ukrainian investigators claim to have identified “more than 8,000 cases” of alleged war crimes.

On the military level, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense estimates Russian losses at 28,500 men since the start of the invasion on February 24. This is notoriously more than Western sources. The Kremlin has just admitted “significant losses”.

On the Ukrainian side, no independent and reliable figures are available either.

– Displaced persons and refugees –

Ukraine has seen more than six million of its own flee its territory, of which more than half – 3.4 million – to Poland, according to the High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) in Geneva, which however notes that the flow of these departures dried up considerably over the weeks and even reversed.

The overall balance, however, still remains largely negative – with 6.3 million departures for 1.89 million returns, according to border guards.

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