Russian forces now control “most” of the key city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, a regional governor said on Tuesday, as European leaders were divided over a gas ban from Moscow after agreed to an embargo on most of its oil.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has continued to investigate war crimes since the Russian invasion. Officials said thousands of people had been committed in the eastern region of Donbass alone and that it had imprisoned two Russian soldiers elsewhere in the country.
Severodonetsk is one of the industrial centers in Russia’s path to capture the Luhansk region in the Donbass, where Moscow has moved most of its firepower since its failure to capture Kyiv at the start of the war. .
“Unfortunately, today Russian troops control most of the city,” Lugansk Governor Sergiy Gaiday said in a video, insisting the Ukrainian army was not at risk of being surrounded.
He added that “90%” of Severodonetsk had been destroyed.
Gaiday also warned that Russian forces hit a tank containing nitric acid at a chemical plant in Severodonetsk and called on people to stay in their shelters.
EU leaders meeting for a second day in Brussels only partially succeeded in tightening the economic screws on Moscow.
A compromise oil embargo deal reached on Monday night, intended to punish Russia for its invasion, cuts off “a huge source of funding for its war machine”, European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted.
– Gas embargo talks –
But the EU remained divided on the issue of gas supplies, and leaders played down the chances of a quick ban to follow the embargo on two-thirds of oil imports from Russia.
Europe depends on Russian gas for around 40% of its supplies, and a ban would add to the existing pain of an energy and inflationary crisis.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen suggested that Brussels had gone far enough against Russian fossil fuels so far and that it was time to focus more on the “financial and economic sector”.
The oil ban “will effectively reduce about 90% of Russia’s oil imports to the EU by the end of the year”, she said.
The compromise oil deal exempts pipeline deliveries, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned that cutting off Moscow’s cheap crude supply would hurt his country’s economy.
“Families can sleep peacefully tonight, we have discarded the most terrifying idea,” Orban, whose country borders war-torn Ukraine to the west, said in a video message.
Denmark, meanwhile, has become the latest European country targeted by Russia for its gas exports, following in the footsteps of the Netherlands, Finland, Poland and Bulgaria.
Danish energy company Orsted said on Tuesday that Russian energy monopoly Gazprom Export would cut gas supplies on Wednesday after the Danish company refused to pay in rubles as demanded by the Russian government.
– ‘Save your lives’ –
The situation on the eastern Donbass frontline has grown increasingly desperate, with Ukrainian towns facing near-constant shelling from Russian forces.
“We see cars driving with Ukrainian flags, so we think that means we are still part of Ukraine,” said Yevgen Onyshchenko, a 42-year-old plumber in a helpless apartment in Lysychansk, Severodonetsk’s twin city. .
“But otherwise, we are in the dark.”
French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff was killed on Monday while covering the evacuations of civilians in the region.
A rocket attack overnight left at least three people dead and six injured in the city of Sloviansk, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram on Tuesday.
“There are no safe places in the Donetsk region, so I call again: evacuate – save your lives,” he said.
Four other civilians died and seven were injured in Donetsk on Tuesday, he added in a later Telegram post.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said authorities had identified “a few thousand” cases of war crimes in Donbass, including killings, torture and forced displacement of children.
Prosecutor Iryna Venediktova, who met her international counterparts in The Hague on Tuesday, said Kyiv was already going to prosecute 80 suspects for alleged war crimes on Ukrainian soil.
A Ukrainian court on Tuesday sentenced two Russian soldiers to 11 and a half years in prison for bombing civilian areas. Earlier this month another was jailed for life for the murder of a civilian.
Servicemen Alexander Bobykin and Alexander Ivanov were both found guilty on Tuesday of firing Grad missiles at two villages in the northeast Kharkiv region at the start of the war.
– Proposed blockade of Odessa –
Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor also threatens a global food crisis, with Ukraine’s huge grain harvest effectively withdrawn from the world market.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that he and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had urged Vladimir Putin to end Russia’s blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odessa under a UN resolution.
According to the proposal, a UN resolution would establish a framework within which mines laid by Ukrainian defenders of the port could be removed and grain shipments would resume.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was up to the West and Kyiv to resolve the crisis, starting with the lifting of sanctions.
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