- Russia claims that it has surrounded Lyman in eastern Ukraine.
- The authorities say that the troops in Severodonetsk repelled the Russian army.
- EU leaders had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian forces engaged in an all-out battle in eastern Ukraine have captured the strategic city of Lyman and surrounded a key industrial center, Moscow said.
But a Ukrainian official denied that the city of Severodonetsk, the focus of weeks of fierce fighting, had been surrounded, saying government troops had repelled Russian forces from its outskirts.
IN DEVELOPMENT | Scholz and Macron ask Putin for “serious direct negotiations” with Zelensky
As the battle for Ukraine’s industrial heartland raged on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for “direct and serious negotiations” between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
EU leaders also “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops” in an 80-minute phone call with the Russian leader, the German chancellor’s office said.
Since failing to capture the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the war, Russia has shifted its focus to the eastern Donbas region as it tries to consolidate areas under its control.
“The situation is very difficult, especially in those areas in the Donbas and Kharkiv regions, where the Russian military is trying to get at least some result,” Ukrainian President Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation.
Earlier on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that “the city of Krasny Liman has been completely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists,” using Moscow’s name for Lyman.
Lyman is on the road to Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk, which a police officer in Luhansk province quoted by Russian state media said was “now surrounded”.
But regional governor Sergiy Gaiday told Ukrainian television that “Severodonetsk has not been isolated…there is still a chance to deliver humanitarian aid.”
His comments came as Russia, in another military bending exercise, said it had successfully tested hypersonic missiles in the Arctic.
Inside Severodonetsk, where an estimated 15,000 civilians remain, a local official said “constant shelling” made it increasingly difficult to get in or out.
Oleksandr Stryuk, head of the city’s military and civil administration, said:
The evacuation is very unsafe, there are isolated cases when we manage to get people out. Now the priority is the wounded and people who need serious medical assistance.
The water supply was also getting dimmer as a lack of electricity meant the city’s well pumps were no longer working, he said, adding that residents had spent more than two weeks without a cell phone connection.
Meanwhile, the only road maintaining contact with the outside world was expected to be the focus of continued Russian attacks, Lugansk Governor Gaiday said on Saturday night.
“The next week will be very difficult, as Russia will devote all its resources to seizing Severodonetsk or cutting off the oblast’s communication with Ukraine,” he said.
As France and Germany called for talks to end a war that has created millions of refugees, Saturday’s phone call with Putin also focused on a looming global food security crisis.
In addition to capturing key port cities like Mariupol, Russia has used its warships to cut off others still in Ukrainian hands, blocking the transport of grain supplies.
Russia and Ukraine supply about 30% of the wheat traded on world markets.
Russia has restricted its own exports and Ukraine has large quantities in storage, driving up prices and reducing availability around the world.
Putin has repeatedly denied any responsibility and instead blamed Western sanctions.
But on Saturday, he told Macron and Scholz that Russia was “ready” to look at ways to allow more wheat into the global market.
The Kremlin quoted him as saying:
Russia is ready to help find options for grain export without obstacles, including the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports.
He also called for the lifting of sanctions to allow “an increase in the supply of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products” on the global market.
Meanwhile, Zelensky’s urgent calls for more advanced weaponry from Ukraine’s Western allies appear to be bearing fruit, with Washington agreeing to send advanced long-range rocket systems, according to US media reports.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm plans to deliver the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, a highly mobile piece of equipment capable of firing up to 300km that Kyiv has said it urgently needs.
But he said Washington “was still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield.”
In a phone call on Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Zelensky that his country would continue to help “provide the equipment they need”, his office said.
But Putin warned Macron and Scholz that increasing arms supplies to Ukraine would be “dangerous” and risk “further destabilization”.
He spoke after Russian forces said they had successfully fired one of their Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles some 1,000km across the Arctic.
As Zelensky seeks to increase international pressure on Moscow, he will speak to EU leaders at an emergency summit on Monday about an embargo on Russian oil.
Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has close relations with Putin, is delaying agreement on the measure.
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