MAX HUNDER AND PAVEL POLITYUK, KYIV, UKRAINE – REUTERS
Russian troops have entered the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, the regional governor said on Monday, describing “very fierce” fighting in the ruins of a city that has become the focus of Moscow’s offensive.
Russia has concentrated its firepower on the last major population centre still held by Ukrainian forces in the eastern Luhansk province, in a push to achieve one of President Vladimir Putin’s stated objectives after three months of war.
Incessant shelling has left Ukrainian forces defending ruins in Sievierodonetsk, but their refusal to withdraw has slowed the massive Russian offensive across the Donbas region.
Luhansk region governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had advanced into the city’s southeastern and northeastern fringes. But he said Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka to the south, potentially frustrating Moscow’s push to encircle the area.
“Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers … We do all we can to hold this advance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised speech.
“Some 90% of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the city’s housing stock has been completely destroyed.”
European Union leaders were due to meet on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a new sanctions package against Russia, potentially including an oil embargo.
But EU governments have been unable to reach agreement in a month of talks, with Hungary in particular saying it cannot afford to shut off the Russian oil that supplies its refineries through the huge Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline, whose name means “Friendship”.
Ahead of the summit, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck expressed fears that EU unity was “starting to crumble”. Draft conclusions, seen by Reuters, indicated there would be little in terms of new decisions.
But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that “there will be an agreement in the end”, with a deal on the next sanctions package by Monday afternoon.