FILE PHOTO: Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Sievierodonetsk

Russia pounds key Ukrainian city as war continues in country’s east

BAKHMUT, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces pounded an eastern Ukrainian city Thursday and the two sides waged pitched street battles that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said could determine the fate of the critical Donbas region.

In the wake of a series of setbacks in the 3-month-old war, Russia set its sights on the industrial Donbas region of coal mines and factories, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for years and where they already held swaths of territory before the invasion.

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But, as elsewhere, the Russian advance has not been as quick as expected, and the plodding battle for control of Sievierodonetsk has devolved into street-to-street fighting that has been relatively rare in the conflict.

“Fierce battles continue in the city itself, street battles are taking place with varied success in city blocks,” Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press. “The army of Ukraine is fighting for every street and house.”

Sievierodonetsk, which became the administrative capital of the Luhansk region after the original one was taken by separatists in 2014, is the last pocket of the region that Russia has not yet claimed control of.

Zelenskyy called the painstaking fight for Sievierodonetsk the “epicenter” of the battle for the larger Donbas, which is comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk.

“In many ways, it is there that the fate of our Donbas is being decided,” Zelenskyy said Wednesday in his nightly video address, which was recorded in the street outside his office in Kyiv.

Analysts have suggested that Russia’s slow advance in the Donbas could eventually open up the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the war.

In other developments:

— Haidai said Russian forces are also targeting Lysychansk, the city that neighbors Sievierodonetsk, with “day and night shelling,” as well as trying to storm a key road leading from Lysychansk to the southwest.

— Russia claimed Thursday that it struck a training facility west of the capital, far from the front lines. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it used air-launched missiles against a Ukrainian military base in the Zhytomyr region where it alleged mercenaries were being trained.
There was no immediate response from Ukrainian authorities to the Russian claims. Moscow has repeatedly accused Ukraine of using mercenaries in the fighting.

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine.

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