While the European Union has just tightened economic screws with a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow, including an embargo on Russian oil, Washington is advancing on military support.

US President Joe Biden wrote in the New York Times on Tuesday that his country will “provide the Ukrainians with more advanced missile systems and ammunition that will allow them to more accurately hit key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine”.

It is, according to a senior White House official, Himars (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), that is to say multiple rocket launchers mounted on light armored vehicles, with a range of about 80 kilometers .

This equipment is part of a new broader component of US military assistance to Ukraine, totaling $700 million, details of which are to be given on Wednesday.

Ever anxious not to be seen as co-belligerent, Mr Biden has insisted that he “does not encourage” and “does not give Ukraine the means to strike” on Russian territory.

For specialists, the Himars could change the military balance of power on the ground, while the Ukrainian army seems to be retreating in the Donbass in the face of Moscow’s firepower.

In this region of eastern Ukraine, Russian forces are on the verge of seizing Severodonetsk, a strategic city of which they “control the major part”, announced on Tuesday the governor of the Lugansk region, Serguiï Gaïdaï .

The latter called on the inhabitants of this “90% destroyed” city to stay in the shelters and “prepare face masks soaked in a solution of soda” after a “nitric acid tank” of a chemical plant was “hit” by a Russian strike.

“Given the presence of large-scale chemical production in Severodonetsk, the strikes of the Russian army in this city, with indiscriminate aerial bombardments, are simply crazy,” reacted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a message. Tuesday night video.

“But on the 97th day of such a war, it is no longer surprising that for the Russian military, for the Russian commanders, for the Russian soldiers, any madness is absolutely acceptable,” he added.

The fighting, which is too dangerous, is preventing the evacuation of civilians, which made the governor say that there is “no longer any possibility of leaving” the city on Tuesday, the day after the death in this area of ​​the French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, who accompanied a humanitarian vehicle evacuating residents.

There could remain 12,000 civilians in the city, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an NGO whose main staff in Ukraine was based there until the Russian invasion of the country on February 24.

According to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar, one of Moscow’s objectives is “to encircle the Ukrainian troops and complicate the situation by blackmailing us later with these encircled troops, which in general can be called a cauldron”.

“So far, they have not succeeded, because the Ukrainian army is resisting with great power,” she said Wednesday morning on YouTube, before acknowledging that Russian forces have “an advantage in terms of quantity of equipment, weapons and men”.

In the south, Ukrainian forces have claimed to regain ground, particularly in the region around Kherson, a city near Crimea which came under Russian control in early March.

On the diplomatic level, the absence of talks does not suggest any ceasefire soon, even punctually.

Westerners seem to be concentrating their efforts on unblocking Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Hundreds of tonnes of Ukrainian grain cannot be exported due to a Russian blockade, raising the risk of a global food crisis.

The establishment of “secure corridors” for the transport of these cereals will be at the heart of the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Turkey on June 8, according to his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu.

But Mr. Lavrov blamed kyiv and the West on Tuesday.

“Western countries, which have created a ton of man-made problems by closing their ports to Russian ships, cutting logistics and financial chains, need to think hard about what matters most,” he said, referring to sanctions against Moscow.

“Either publicize the issue of food security or solve this problem with concrete measures: the ball is in their court”, he continued, during a visit to Bahrain.

In the streets of kyiv, the Ukrainians await the 90 minutes which, on Wednesday evening, will allow them to escape from the daily life of the war, with the qualifying match for the World Cup-2022 of their team against Scotland in Glasgow.

“I hope for a victory,” Andriy Veres told AFP: “Right now it’s very important for the country, for everyone, for those who are football fans, but even for those who don’t. are not”.