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Russia's brutal Donbas offensive in photos

by Asami Terajima June 19, 2022 5:54 PM 4 min read
A pile of grain set on fire by Russian shelling in the village of Siversk, Donetsk Oblast, on May 26, 2022. (Kaoru Ng)
This audio is created with AI assistance

Two months after President Volodymyr Zelensky declared that the "Battle of Donbas" had begun, shelling and rocket fire intensifies as fierce fighting continues across the region.

"Russia wants to destroy every city in Donbas, (and) 'every' is not an exaggeration," Zelensky said in an evening video address on June 10. "Like Volnovakha, like Mariupol. All these ruins in once happy cities."

Russia turned its focus towards Ukraine's eastern and southern regions after failing to capture Kyiv in a nine-week assault that reduced the capital's suburbs to rubble and killed thousands. Moscow now focuses on capturing the Donbas, Ukraine's industrial heartland comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Both Ukraine and Russia are suffering an immense number of casualties as the conflict transitions into a war of attrition.

Months into the deadliest battle in Europe since World War II, Russian forces have made some progress in the Donbas. The main fighting is taking place in Sievierodonetsk, the site of intense urban combat.

The Sievierodonetsk agglomeration is the last major urban area in Luhansk Oblast still under Ukrainian control.

Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai told the Associated Press on June 14 that Russian troops have seized control of around 80% of the city, although Ukraine continues to hold on to Sievierodonetsk's southwest industrial zone.

Russian forces continue to bombard Ukrainian positions near the city with artillery barrage and airstrikes, indiscriminately killing and injuring the area's remaining residents.

In the interview, Haidai estimated that around 12,000 civilians remain in the war-torn city, roughly one-tenth of its pre-war population. Among them are 568 people, including 38 children, sheltering in the city's besieged Azot chemical plant, he reported on June 17.

Haidai added that the humanitarian situation is "critical" and that the evacuation of those trapped in the plant is "currently impossible" due to shelling and heavy fighting.

Earlier this week, the last bridge connecting Sievierodonetsk to its twin city of Lysychansk to the west was destroyed, according to local authorities.

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said that, while the city itself is not cut off, the delivery of support to the defending Ukrainian forces fighting in the area has become strained. Striuk noted that the mass evacuation of civilians is "simply not possible," but evacuation efforts continue in moments of relative "quiet."

Around 90% of the buildings that comprise Sievierodonetsk have been damaged by Russian forces, rendering the city a largely abandoned ruin amid fierce battle. The remaining residents are often without access to water, electricity, or gas.

As a mix of smoke and dirt rise above the city, Zelensky said that the fate of Donbas is being "decided in Sievierodonetsk."

Acknowledging the devastating losses incurred in the city, as Ukrainian soldiers try valiantly to save it, Zelensky stated that Ukraine urgently needs additional modern, long-range weapons to turn the tide of the war in Ukraine's favor.

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