The sixteenth week of Russia’s war against Ukraine saw Moscow forces push forward with their offensive in the east of the country as they seek to take full control of the Donbas.
The strategically important city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region came under heavy attack, particularly as Ukrainian troops rushed in trying to prevent it from falling into Russian hands.
Meanwhile, Kyiv continued to request additional heavy weaponry from its Western allies in an attempt to bolster its defenses and avoid being outgunned.
And on the diplomatic stage, Pope Francis stirred controversy when he said the war was “perhaps somehow provoked or not prevented.”
Here, Al Jazeera looks at the major events that marked week 16 of the war in Ukraine:
8 of June
Ukrainian defenders continue to fight Russian attack in the streets of Severdonetsk, disproving Russian claims of having taken the city, says Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai. He says Russian efforts to surround the city have also failed so far and the situation is “difficult but under control.”
Russian Readovka News reports that Russian forces have taken control of Severdonetsk airport, 9 km from the city, and Ukrainian defenders are fighting from a part of the Azot chemical plant in the city. Russian forces advanced as far as Sviatohirsk, 27 km southeast of Izyum, but failed to advance south of Lyman to occupy the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River.
Ukraine’s general staff says French Caesar howitzers are now in effective use in the field. Ukraine’s presidential office says Norway has delivered 22 M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers. The United States sends another plane full of M777 155mm howitzers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it has identified 4,253 Ukrainian civilians killed since the start of hostilities.
Turkey accepts as “reasonable” a UN plan to export Ukrainian grain by creating a secure corridor for bulk shipment from Odessa. The plan stalls due to Ukraine’s security concerns and Russian demands for sanctions relief.
Russian forces continue to try to dislodge the Ukrainian defenders from their last stronghold in Severdonetsk, the Azot industrial area. Ukrainian defenders say they desperately need artillery reinforcements. “If we quickly get Western long-range weapons, an artillery duel will start, the Soviet Union will lose to the West, and our defenders will be able to clear Severdonetsk in two or three days,” says Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai.
Russian forces also make another unsuccessful attempt to take Toshkivka, south of Severdonetsk, which would pave the way for an advance on the Siverskyi Donets River from the south.
Russian forces advancing from Izyum continue to try to secure Sviatohirsk.
Russian forces strengthen their defenses in Kherson, including the use of mines. The head of the Ukrainian administration of Zaporizhia, Oleksandr Starukh, reports that the Russian forces in Zaporizhia have received 80 new tanks over the last month.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister says Polish Crab 155mm self-propelled howitzers are ready for deployment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin compares his conquest of the Ukraine to Peter the Great’s conquest of what is now northwestern Russia in a war waged against Sweden in 1700-1721. When Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg and declared it the Russian capital, “none of the countries of Europe recognized this territory as belonging to Russia,” Putin said. “Everyone considered it part of Sweden. But since time immemorial, the Slavs had lived there alongside the Finno-Ugric peoples. It is also our responsibility to recover and strengthen.”
Russian forces continue to shell Severdonetsk and attempt to storm Ukrainian positions in the city. Pro-Russian media agree that Ukrainian forces continue to control the road from Severdonetsk to Lysychansk and Bakhmut. Russian forces advancing north from Popasna are shelling settlements east of Bakhmut in an attempt to seize control of the highway. The Ukrainian general staff believes that Russia is preparing a new assault on Slovyansk.
Ukraine’s general staff says the Ukrainian air force has carried out airstrikes against concentrations of enemy equipment in five settlements in the Kherson region, continuing the Ukrainian counterattack there.
Ukraine’s southern command says Russia has added a submarine carrying cruise missiles to forces blockading Odessa, bringing its cruise missile capacity to 40.
Ukrainian forces repel a Russian offensive to take full control of Severdonetsk. Russian sources claim that 300-400 Ukrainian defenders are surrounded inside the Azot chemical plant and are negotiating surrender terms for themselves and the civilians there, but Ukrainian sources say this is propaganda as their side controls a third of the city. , including Scourge.
The UK Ministry of Defense says Russia is seeking to field three active battalions from each brigade, stretching its operational capacity to the maximum. “Most brigades typically only commit a maximum of two of their three battalions to operations at any one time,” says the UK Ministry of Defense. “The third battalions within the brigades are often not fully staffed. Russia will likely have to rely on newly mobilized recruits or reservists to deploy these units to Ukraine.”
Numerous sources say that the Russian occupation authorities issued their first passports to Ukrainian citizens: 23 in Kherson and 30 in Melitopol.
Russia continues to buy Ukrainian products. The Luhansk agro-industrial development department reports that Russian forces transported 15,000 tons of sunflower seeds and 10,000 tons of grain from Luhansk oblast. He says that Ukrainian growers are being offered 30 percent of the price they would get for their produce in Ukraine.
Ukraine says there are 4.1 million internally displaced persons.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tells Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Ukraine will know whether it will be granted candidate status for European Union membership before June 24.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai says Russian forces have destroyed a second bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River and are shelling a third, in an effort to cut off Ukrainian forces in Severdonetsk from their resupply lines. The tactic suggests that the Russian forces do not plan to ford the river on their own. The Ukrainian General Staff says it has withdrawn its forces from the city center.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai says Russia has cut all bridges to Severdonetsk, making further evacuation of civilians impossible, but evacuation is still possible from Lysychansk. The third and final bridge destroyed was reportedly old and unsuitable for military vehicles. Haidai denies Russian claims that he surrounded Ukrainian forces. Severdonetsk defenders post videos showing them in possession of the power plant in the industrial district.
In the south, Ukrainian forces attack Russian defense lines on the east bank of the Inhulets River in the Kherson district. The fighting is especially fierce around Davidov Brod.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tells The Economist that Ukraine needs faster arms deliveries to continue resisting Russia.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appears to suggest that Ukraine will have to accept the loss of sovereignty or territory in exchange for peace, during a press conference in Finland.
Russia earned $98 billion from fossil fuel exports during the first 100 days of its war in Ukraine. Sixty-one percent of exports went to Europe, according to research by the independent Finnish Research Center for Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Some researchers estimate that the war is costing Russia $1 billion a day, equaling profits from oil and gas.
The Russian Defense Ministry says it will grant safe passage to civilians fleeing Severdonetsk on June 15. It says Ukraine requested the evacuation as it destroyed the last bridge leading out of the city into Ukrainian-controlled territory to prevent its soldiers from withdrawing. Russia also says Ukrainian forces entrenched in the city’s Azot chemical plant are using civilians as shields. Ukraine says that Russia blew up the three bridges leading out of the city and that its soldiers are still fighting and do not need to be evacuated.
Ukraine estimates that Russia has lost 32,300 military personnel since the war began.
Ukrainian Air Force Spokesman Yuriy Ignat says that because it has been successfully denied access to Ukraine’s unoccupied airspace, Russia is increasingly firing low-precision cruise missiles from strategic bombers over the sea. Black. The imprecision of these weapons, plus the fact that Ukraine’s air defenses, including the S-300 and Buk-M1 anti-aircraft batteries, are designed to shoot down planes, not missiles, means they often pass through and hit civilian infrastructure. Still, Ignat says the Air Force is seeing increasing success against Russian missiles, without elaborating.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry estimates that it has shot down 213 of the 450 military aircraft deployed against it since February 24 and 178 of the 250 helicopters. However, Ignat points out, these losses are replenished by Russia’s deep reserves.
Pope Francis causes controversy when he says that the war in Ukraine “perhaps was somehow provoked or not prevented.”