KYIV, Ukraine, 15 Jun (AP) — The Russian military said it used long-range missiles Wednesday to destroy a depot in the western Lviv region of Ukraine where ammunition for NATO-supplied weapons was being stored, and the governor of a key eastern city acknowledged that Russian forces are advancing amid heavy fighting.
Those strikes came as fighting raged for the city of Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas area, the focus of Russia’s offensive in recent weeks.
Russia-backed separatists accused Ukrainian forces of sabotaging an evacuation of civilians from the city’s besieged Azot chemical plant, where about 500 civilians and an unknown number of Ukrainian fighters are believed to be sheltering from missile attacks. It wasn’t possible to verify that claim.
A humanitarian corridor from the Azot plant had been announced a day earlier by Russian officials, who said they would take civilians to areas controlled by Russian forces, not Ukrainian ones.
Many previously announced planned evacuations from other areas of fighting in Ukraine have failed, with each side blaming the other. Some Ukrainians have been reluctant to evacuate to Russian-held territory.
The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, told The Associated Press that “heavy fighting in Sievierodonetsk continues today as well.” The situation in the city is getting worse, Haidai admitted, because Russian forces have more manpower and weapons.
“But our military is holding back the enemy from three sides at once,” Haidai said. “The enemy is advancing because of significant advantage in artillery and people, but the Ukrainian army is holding on to its positions in the city.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces used high-precision Kalibr missiles to destroy the depot near the town of Zolochiv in the Lviv region near the border with NATO member Poland.
Konashenkov said shells for M777 howitzers, a type supplied by the United States, were being stored there. He said four howitzers were destroyed elsewhere in fighting and that Russian airstrikes also destroyed Ukrainian “aviation equipment” at a military aerodrome in the southern Mykolaiv region.
There was no immediate comment on the Zolochiv strike from the Ukrainians.
While focusing most of their attacks on eastern Ukraine, where they are trying to capture large swaths of territory, Russian forces have also been hitting more specific targets elsewhere in the country, using high-precision missiles to disrupt the international supply of weapons and destroy military infrastructure.
Civilian infrastructure has been bombarded as well, even though Russian officials have claimed they’re only targeting military facilities.
The latest attacks came as Ukraine keeps up its pressure on Western countries to deliver more arms and as NATO countries pledge more heavy weapons for Ukraine.
In recent days, Ukrainian officials have spoken of the heavy human cost of the war, with the fierce fighting in the east becoming an artillery battle that has seen Kyiv’s forces outgunned and outnumbered.
“The losses, unfortunately, are painful, but we have to hold out,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Tuesday in his nightly video address. “The more losses the enemy suffers there, the less strength it will have to continue the aggression. Therefore, the Donbas is key to determining who will dominate in the coming weeks.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, tweeted Wednesday that he gets a daily message from the Ukrainian defenders in the east saying: “We are holding on, just say: when to expect the weapons?” He said that’s the same message he has for NATO leaders.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council who is a former Russian president, ominously suggested that Russia appears intent on not just claiming some territory but eliminating Ukraine as a nation.
In a Telegram post, he wrote that he saw reports in which Ukraine wants to receive liquified natural gas in a deal from its “overseas masters” with payment due in two years.
He added: “But there’s a question. Who said that in two years Ukraine will even exist on the map?”
Medvedev has been making harsh statements against Ukraine and the West since the war began.