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Russia cuts escape routes from besieged Ukraine city

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Russian forces have tightened their grip on the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, a Ukrainian official said, cutting off the last routes for evacuating citizens in a scene that echoed last month’s siege of the port of Mariupol.

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Amid heavy bombardment, regional governor Sergei Gaidai said on social media that all bridges out of the city had been destroyed, making it impossible to bring in humanitarian cargoes or evacuate citizens.

“It is now fully impossible unfortunately to drive into the city, to deliver something to the city. Evacuation is impossible,” Gaidai said on Monday.

He said 70 per cent of the small industrial city – now the focus of one of the bloodiest battles of the war – was under Russian control, but that the remaining Ukrainian defenders were not completely blockaded.

“They have the ability to send the wounded to hospitals, so there is still access,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian service. “It’s hard to deliver weapons or reserves. Difficult, but not impossible.”

Ukraine has issued increasingly urgent calls for more Western heavy weapons to help defend Sievierodonetsk, which Kyiv says could hold the key to the battle for the eastern Donbas region and the course of the war, now in its fourth month.

Ukraine’s military command said in a briefing note that Russian forces were trying to take full control of Sievierodonetsk, but that an assault on Ukrainian positions in the southeast of the city had failed.

“The battles are so fierce that fighting for not just a street but for a single high-rise building can last for days,” Gaidai said earlier.

Russian artillery fire pummelled the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians were sheltering, he said.

Damien Magrou, spokesperson for the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine that has had forces in Sievierodonetsk, said the situation there risked becoming like Mariupol, “with a large pocket of Ukrainian defenders cut off from the rest of the Ukrainian troops”.

“This is one of the reasons why it is so important that our Western partners deliver long-range artillery as fast as possible,” he said.

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a pro-Moscow separatist spokesperson, Eduard Basurin, as saying Ukrainian troops were effectively blockaded in Sievierodonetsk and should surrender or die.

Ukraine’s account of civilians trapped in an industrial plant echoed the fall of Mariupol last month, where hundreds of civilians and badly wounded Ukrainian soldiers were trapped for weeks in the Azovstal steelworks.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to restore Russian security and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for an invasion that has killed thousands of civilians and raised fears of wider conflict in Europe.

More than five million people have fled the assault and millions more are threatened by a global energy and food crisis due to disrupted gas, oil and grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine. Western nations are divided over how best to end it.

Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak listed equipment he said was needed from Western allies for heavy weapons parity, including 1000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1000 drones.

Moscow has criticised the United States and other nations for sending Ukraine weapons, threatening to strike new targets if the West supplied long-range missiles.

 – Reuters

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