Russia claims to have ‘liberated’ 97% of eastern Luhansk and launches deadly new strikes on Kharkiv

Russia claims to have ‘liberated’ 97% of eastern Luhansk region and launches deadly new strikes on Kharkiv – but Zelensky warns Ukraine will fight for all its territory with stalemate ‘not an option’

Russia claimed it has ‘liberated’ 97 per cent of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine will fight to recover all its occupied territory He said stalemate was ‘not an option’ and ‘we have to achieve full deoccupation’It came as a Russian strike on Kharkiv killed one person and wounded three more

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Russia claimed today it has ‘liberated’ 97 per cent of one of the two provinces that make up Ukraine’s Donbas, bringing the Kremlin closer to its goal of fully capturing the eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s forces hold nearly all of Luhansk province. 

However, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday Ukraine will fight to recover all its territory occupied by Russian forces.

‘We have already lost too many people to simply cede our territory,’ the Ukrainian President said by video link at an event hosted by the Financial Times.

He said stalemate was ‘not an option’ and ‘we have to achieve a full deoccupation of our entire territory’. 

It came as a Russian strike on Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv killed one person and wounded three more on Tuesday, local mayor Ihor Terekhov said on television.

Terekhov said Russia ‘does not leave Kharkiv alone and constantly keeps people in fear’.

Smoke and dirt rise from shelling in the city of Severodonetsk during fight between Ukrainian and Russian troops in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7, 2022 (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian troops fire with a surface-to-surface rockets Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) towards Russian positions in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7, 2022 (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia claimed today it has ‘liberated’ 97 per cent of one of the two provinces that make up Ukraine’s Donbas, bringing the Kremlin closer to its goal of fully capturing the eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories

However, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday Ukraine will fight to recover all its territory occupied by Russian forces. Pictured: Zelensky at the frontline in eastern Ukraine

Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s east, experienced intense shelling in the first two months of the war as battles raged near its outskirts, but the situation in the city has calmed somewhat over the past weeks as Russian forces retreated in the region.

According to Ukrainian officials and military analysts Russia now occupies roughly half of the Donetsk province.

After abandoning its bungled attempt to storm Kyiv two months ago, Russia declared taking the entire Donbas is its main objective. 

Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian government forces in the Donbas since 2014, and the region has borne the brunt of the Russian onslaught in recent weeks.

Ivan Sosnin, 19, walks next to his destroyed house in the city of Lysychansk at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7, 2022 (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Intense fighting in the eastern region of Ukraine has left many homes destroyed. Pictured: A destroyed house in the city of Lysychansk at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7

A man stands at his destroyed house as a rocket is nailed on a bed in the city of Lysychansk at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7, 2022 (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Early in the war, Russian troops also took control of the entire Kherson region and a large part of the Zaporizhzhia region, both in the south. Russian officials and their local appointees have talked about plans for those regions to either declare their independence or be folded into Russia.

But in what may be the latest instance of anti-Russian sabotage inside Ukraine, Russian state media said Tuesday that an explosion at a cafe in the city of Kherson wounded four people. Tass called the apparent bombing in the Russian-occupied city a ‘terror act.’

Before the February invasion, Ukrainian officials said Russia controlled some 7 per cent of the country, including the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and areas held by the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces now hold 20 per cent of the country.

While the Kremlin’s forces have superior firepower, the Ukrainian defenders are entrenched and have shown the ability to counterattack.

Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, said Moscow’s forces have seized the residential quarters of Sievierodonetsk and are fighting to take control of an industrial zone on the city’s outskirts and nearby towns.

Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk have seen heavy fighting in recent weeks. They are among a few cities and towns in the Luhansk region still holding out against the Russian invasion, which is being helped by local pro-Kremlin forces.

Ukrainian troops fire with a surface-to-surface MLRS towards Russian positions in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7 (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

 While the Kremlin’s forces have superior firepower, the Ukrainian defenders are entrenched and have shown the ability to counterattack

Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk have seen heavy fighting in recent weeks. They are among a few cities and towns in the Luhansk region still holding out against the Russian invasion, which is being helped by local pro-Kremlin forces

While insisting on Ukraine’s need to defeat Russia on the battlefield, Zelensky said at a Financial Times conference Tuesday that he is still open to peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin

He also lamented that Western sanctions ‘have not really influenced the Russian position,’ the FT reported

Shoigu added that Russian troops were pressing their offensive toward the town of Popasna and have taken control of Lyman and Sviatohirsk and 15 other towns in the region.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak urged his people not to be downhearted about the battlefield reverses.

‘Don’t let the news that we´ve ceded something scare you,’ he said in a video address. ‘It is clear that tactical maneuvers are ongoing. We cede something, we take something back.’

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai conceded that Russian forces control the industrial outskirts of Sievierodonetsk.

‘The toughest street battles continue, with varying degrees of success,’ Haidai said. ‘The situation constantly changes, but the Ukrainians are repelling attacks.’

Moscow’s forces also kept up their artillery barrage of Lysychansk. Haidai said Russian troops shelled a market, a school and a college building, destroying the latter. At least three people were wounded, he said.

‘A total destruction of the city is under way. Russian shelling has intensified significantly over the past 24 hours. Russians are using scorched-earth tactics,’ Haidai said.

While insisting on Ukraine’s need to defeat Russia on the battlefield, Zelensky said at a Financial Times conference Tuesday that he is still open to peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He also lamented that Western sanctions ‘have not really influenced the Russian position,’ the FT reported.

Meanwhile, the US military has begun training Ukrainian forces on the sophisticated multiple rocket launchers that the Biden administration agreed last week to provide. 

The Pentagon said the training is going on at a base in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, is mounted on a truck and can carry a container with six rockets, which can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers). Officials said it would take about three weeks of training before they could go to the battlefront.

The war also brought a standoff Tuesday between the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and Ukrainian authorities over the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe.

A civilian militia man holds a shotgun and a rifle during training at a shooting range in outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Civilian militia men hold shotguns during training at a shooting range in outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, wants to visit the Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine to help maintain its safety after it was taken by Russian troops in March.

But Energoatom, the Ukrainian state company overseeing the country´s nuclear plants, said in a blunt statement that Grossi isn´t welcome. It said his planned tour is ‘yet another attempt to legitimize the occupier´s presence there.’

Amid fears of a global food crisis because of the war, the Kremlin said Ukraine needs to remove sea mines near its Black Sea port of Odesa to allow essential grain exports to resume from there.

But Ukrainian officials have expressed concern that removing the mines could enable Moscow´s forces to attack.

Zelensky’s remarks on taking back the whole of Ukraine responded forcefully to suggestions that Ukraine must cede territory to Russia to end the war, now in its fourth month.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a recent interview it was important not to ‘humiliate’ Moscow, comments interpreted in Ukraine as implying it must accept some Russian demands.

Asked about Macron’s comments, Zelensky said: ‘We are not going to humiliate anyone, we are going to respond in kind.’

As he spoke, Ukrainian troops in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk were trying to cling to gains Kyiv said its forces had made in a surprise counter-offensive that shifted momentum there last week.

The fight for the small eastern industrial city has emerged as a pivotal battle, with Russia focusing its offensive might in the hope of achieving one of its stated aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian television on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces were doing all they could to hold their ground: ‘Our armed forces have strengthened their positions and are holding the line.’

A rifle is seen on the grass as civilian militia men train at a shooting range in outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Civilian militia men hold shotguns during training at a shooting range in outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Another local official, Roman Vlasenko, said Ukrainian forces were in control of the city’s industrial zone and the Azot chemical plant.

Moscow said its troops have been advancing.

Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground.

Ukrainian officials had said their forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swathe of the city centre.

Before that, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine’s garrison in Luhansk, attempting to cut off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river. On Sunday, Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to Lysychansk, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops’ redoubt.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 saying it aimed to ‘disarm’ and ‘denazify’ the country. Ukraine and its Western backers say Russia launched an unprovoked war to grab territory.

A civilian militia man holds a shotgun and a rifle during training at a shooting range in outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 7 (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A civilian militia man holds a rifle during training at a shooting range in outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 7 (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Russia’s troops were defeated on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv in March and it has since regrouped and ramped up an assault on the east, demanding Kyiv recognise its territorial claim to the Crimea peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014, and the claims of its separatist proxies in Luhansk and Donetsk, the southeastern provinces together known as the Donbas.

Russia has been pressing from three main directions – east, north and south – to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas.

In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were sifting through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.

Nadezhda picked up a pink children’s photo album and kindergarten exercise book from the ruins of her house, and put them on a shelf somehow still standing in the rubble.

‘I do not even know where to start. I am standing here looking but I have no idea what to do. I start crying, I calm down, then I cry again.’

The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told Ukrainian television there was constant shelling along the front line, with Russia attempting to push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two biggest Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk.

Efforts were underway to evacuate remaining residents, he said: ‘People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave.’  

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