Ukraine rejects Russian ultimatum to surrender eastern city as US sends more weapons to Kyiv


Ukraine ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender the eastern city of Severodonetsk on Wednesday as the United States announced more weapons for Kyiv and urged its allies not to “lose steam” in providing military support.
Severodonetsk, now largely in ruins, has for weeks been the main focal point of the war. Russia had told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant there to stop “senseless resistance and lay down arms” from Wednesday morning, pressing its advantage in the battle for control of eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine says more than 500 civilians, including 40 children, remain alongside soldiers inside the Azot chemical factory, sheltering from weeks of almost constant Russian bombardment.

The mayor of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, said Russian forces were trying to storm the city from several directions but the Ukrainians continued to defend it and were not totally cut off, even though all its river bridges had been destroyed.

“The situation is difficult but stable,” he told Ukrainian television. “The escape routes are dangerous, but there are some.” He made no reference to Russia’s ultimatum.

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Moscow had said it would let civilians evacuate from the plant on Wednesday but Russian-backed separatists said Ukrainian shelling had scuppered the plan, which would have involved taking people out towards territory they control.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region containing Severodonetsk, said Ukraine’s army continued to defend the city and to stop Russian forces from taking its twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.
Luhansk is one of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Together they make up the Donbas, an industrial region where Russia has focused its assault after failing to take Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in March.

Sievierodonetsk Azot Association

The premises of Sievierodonetsk Azot Association PrJSC are pictured in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk Region, eastern Ukraine. Source: Getty / Future Publishing/Future Publishing via Getty Imag

‘Pivotal moment’

Addressing dozens of NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels to debate their next moves, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the invasion was at a “pivotal moment”.
“We can’t afford to let up and we can’t lose steam. The stakes are too high,” he said at the start of the talks.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “extremely focused on stepping up support” for Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden later announced $1 billion worth of new weapons aid for Ukraine that sources familiar with the package said included anti-ship rocket systems, artillery rockets and rounds for howitzers.

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Mr Biden, who spoke with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone on Wednesday, also announced an additional $225 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The bombardment of Severodonetsk’s Azot ammonia factory echoes the earlier siege of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians took shelter from Russian shelling. Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken into Russian custody.
Those inside Azot are surviving on water from wells and supplies of food brought in, the mayor said.

British intelligence said the fighters could survive underground, and Russian forces would likely remain focused on them, keeping them from attacking elsewhere.

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But Ukrainian forces on the eastern front are exhausted and outnumbered, British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said.
Kyiv has said 100-200 of its soldiers are being killed every day, with hundreds more wounded in some of the bloodiest fighting since Russia’s 24 February invasion.
Russia gives no regular figures of its own losses but Western countries say they have been massive as President Vladimir Putin seeks full control of the Donbas and a swathe of southern Ukraine.
Mr Putin calls the war a special military operation against Ukrainian nationalists.

On Wednesday, Mr Zelenskyy urged more European sanctions against Russia. He also said Moscow’s territorial ambitions stretched beyond Ukraine to a swathe of eastern Europe from Poland to Bulgaria, without providing evidence for his claim.

People stand in a line holding flags

NGO Promote Ukraine, together with the Institute of Innovative Governance and Avenir de l’Europe organised a symbolic EU-Ukraine human chain around the EU Commission headquarters on 12 June, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. Source: Getty / Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

‘Brussels, we are waiting’

The conflict has sent grain prices soaring and Western sanctions against Russia have driven up oil prices.

Ukraine’s agriculture minister told Reuters the invasion would create a global wheat shortage for at least three seasons by keeping much of the Ukrainian crop from markets.

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Russia said it had offered “safe passage” for Ukraine grain shipments from the country’s Black Sea ports but said it was not responsible for establishing the corridors, as Turkey suggested ships could be guided around sea mines.
Western nations have promised Ukraine NATO-standard weapons but deploying them is taking time. Mr Zelenskyy said there was no justification for delays.

His adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the defenders of Severodonetsk wanted to know when the weapons would arrive. “Brussels, we are waiting for a decision,” he wrote on Twitter.

Russian forces are also trying to move south towards Sloviansk, local councillor Maksym Strelnik told television, adding that Ukraine’s military are “holding the line and are launching counterattacks on the enemy’s flanks”.
In the Donbas, the sound of shelling could be heard near the town of Niu-York, where Ukrainian forces said Russia was throwing everything into the battle.

“For three and a half months we have been standing against the biggest country in the world,” a 22-year-old Ukrainian serviceman nicknamed “Viking” said. “They have taken heavy casualties in vehicles and personnel, but they don’t retreat.”

UN probes allegations Russians adopting Ukrainian children

The UN rights chief said Wednesday her office was investigating allegations that children are being sent from war-torn Ukraine to Russia and then offered up for adoption.
Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet said her office “has been looking into allegations of children forcibly deported from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

These reportedly included children who were “taken from orphanages and subsequently offered for adoption in Russia,” she said. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said her office could not confirm the allegations, nor the number of children involved.

Uneasy Calm Prevails In Kyiv Region As Battle Rages In East And South

A girl swings on a swing next to a shelled apartment building on 15 June, 2022 in Borodianka, Ukraine. The region around Ukraine’s capital continues to recover from Russia’s aborted assault on Kyiv. Source: Getty / Alexey Furman/Getty Images

But she told the council: “We are concerned about the alleged plans of the Russian authorities to allow the movement of children from Ukraine to families in the Russian Federation, which do not appear to include steps for family reunification or respect the best interest of the child.”

“We will continue to closely follow the issue,” she said.
Several thousand young people are believed to have been moved to Russia since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion on 24 February.

The UN began raising concern in March about the risk of forced adoption of Ukrainian children, especially around 91,000 who were living in institutions or boarding schools at the beginning of the war, many of them located in the country’s embattled east.

Afshan Khan, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) regional director for Europe and Central Asia, also warned this week that “adoption should never occur during or immediately after emergencies.”
Such children cannot be assumed to be orphans, and “any decision to move any child must be grounded in their best interests and any movement must be voluntary,” she told reporters, insisting “parents need to provide informed consent.”

“Regarding children that have been sent to Russia, we’re working closely to see with ombudspersons and networks how best we can document those cases,” Ms Khan said, adding that there was currently no access to such children.



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