President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has again appealed for more Western help for his beleaguered Ukrainian forces as Russia continues to gain ground in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Russian forces are now in control of Syevyerodonetsk but fierce urban combat continues in the key eastern city, Ukrainian officials said on June 14 as Moscow said it was ready to provide an evacuation corridor for hundreds of civilians still trapped in the city.
Civilians would be let out through a “humanitarian corridor,” said Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center.
Russian troops have been slowly tightening their grip on Syevyerodonetsk in recent days, cutting off the final bridge into the city on June 13 as street-by-street fighting continues.
Russian forces were in control of the city center due to their superior artillery firepower that involved the use of multiple-rocket systems, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said, adding that Russian forces were “suffering significant losses in the infantry units.”
The head of the city’s administration, Oleksandr Stryuk, told Ukrainian television on June 14 that despite a third bridge being destroyed, “the city is not isolated.”
“There are communication channels even if they are quite complicated,” Stryuk said, adding that there is round-the-clock fighting and the ground situation “changes every hour.”
He said that Ukrainian authorities continue to evacuate civilians from Syevyerodonetsk “every minute when there is quiet there, or there is a possibility of transportation.”
Stryuk said just more than 500 civilians continued to shelter in the city’s Azot chemical plant, which authorities say has been the target of massive bombardment by Russian forces.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has meanwhile said it would open a humanitarian corridor from 8 a.m. Moscow time on June 15 to allow civilians to leave and urged Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azot chemical plant in the city to “stop their senseless resistance and lay down their arms” at the same time.
In the statement announcing the call to surrender, the ministry accused Ukrainian fighters of using the civilians in the Azot chemical plant as human shields, an accusation that Moscow leveled against Ukraine before and Kyiv rejected.
If Syevyerodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk fell, Russian forces would have control over the entire Luhansk region, much of which is already under the control of Russia-backed separatists.
Zelenskiy again voiced an emotional appeal for more advanced Western weapons that would allow Ukraine to survive “one of the most brutal battles in and for Europe.”
“We have to do much more together to win this war,” Zelenskiy told German weekly Die Zeit in an interview published on June 14, a day before NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels to discuss how to offer more support to Kyiv.
Zelenskiy asked in particular for more modern artillery, such as longer-range multiple rocket launchers, telling the German publication that military supplies from Berlin — a sensitive topic between the two countries since the start of the war in February — were “still fewer than they could be.”
It marked the second time in as many days that Zelenskiy appealed for more weapons, after saying in his nightly address that the battle for the Donbas region “will surely go down in military history as one of the most brutal battles in Europe and for Europe.”
“The price of this battle for us is very high. It’s just scary. And we draw the attention of our partners on a daily basis to the fact that only a sufficient number of modern artillery for Ukraine will ensure our advantage and finally the end of Russian torture of the Ukrainian Donbas,” he told Ukrainians.
Ukrainian troops “are doing everything to stop the offensive, as much as they possibly can, as long as there are enough heavy weapons, modern artillery — all that we have asked for and continue to ask for from our partners,” he said.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskiy, also made a plea for thousands of heavy weapons and equipment to achieve parity with Russia at the front and end the war.
“Being straightforward — to end the war we need heavy weapons parity,” he said on Twitter. He listed 1,000 howitzers, 300 multiple launch rocket systems, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles, and 1,000 drones.
“Contact Group of Defense Ministers meeting is held in #Brussels on June 15. We are waiting for a decision,” he said.
Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine is coming at a cost, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 14.
The bulletin quoted a senior official in Russia’s Military Industrial Commission as saying on June 10 that defense spending will go up by 600 billion-700 billion rubles ($10.5 billion-$12.3 billion), which could represent a 20 percent increase in Russia’s defense budget.
British intelligence also said Russian forces have “likely” made incremental advances in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region for the first time in several weeks.
Ukraine’s General Staff said earlier that Russia troops had gained a foothold in Bohorodychne, a village about 50 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk.
Taking Bohorodychne puts Russian forces in good position to attack Slovyansk, a bigger, more strategically important town.
In Kyiv, the Prosecutor-General’s Office said it was investigating the deaths of seven more civilians found with their hands tied behind their backs near the capital’s suburb of Bucha.
During an investigation of formerly Russian-held positions in the forest near the village of Myrotske, authorities said “the bodies of seven civilians with gunshot wounds and hands tied behind their backs were found in the trenches.”
“The pretrial investigation is being carried out by the Bucha district department of the National Police in the Kyiv region,” a press release on June 13 read.
Bucha caught the attention of the world in early April when dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found there, some with their hands tied, after Russian troops pulled out of the area following a month of occupation.
Since then, many more corpses have been discovered in and around the area, which has become synonymous with allegations of Russian war crimes.
Ukraine’s National Police on June 13 said that across the country they are still trying to identify the bodies of 1,200 civilians.