Russia-Ukraine war: Several explosions heard in Kharkiv after Zelensky visit

Russian forces block civilian cars from evacuating to Zaporizhzhia • All critical infrastructure in Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk destroyed

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint news conference with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi (not pictured), as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 26, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint news conference with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi (not pictured), as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 26, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)

Several explosions were heard in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Sunday hours after a visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was making his first trip outside of the Kyiv region since the start of Russia's invasion, a Reuters journalist said.

A large plume of dark smoke could be seen rising northeast of the city center. Kharkiv has been subjected to Russian shelling in recent days after several weeks of relative quiet.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Ukrainian troops on the front lines in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region on Sunday, the President's office announced.

The visit marks his first official appearance outside Kyiv region since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine

"You risk your lives for us all and for our country," the President's office website cited him as saying to the soldiers, adding that he handed out commendations and gifts.

Russian forces have stepped up their assault on the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk after claiming to have captured the nearby rail hub of Lyman, as Kyiv intensified calls for longer-range weapons from the West.

Slow, solid Russian gains in recent days in eastern Ukraine's Donbas, comprising the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, point to a subtle momentum shift in the war, now in its fourth month.

Invading forces appear close to seizing all of the Luhansk region, one of the more modest war goals the Kremlin set after abandoning its assault on the capital, Kyiv, in the face of Ukrainian resistance.

A view shows apartment buildings damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, May 27, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)A view shows apartment buildings damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, May 27, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Russia's defense ministry said on Saturday its troops and allied separatist forces were in full control of Lyman, the site of a railway junction west of the Siverskyi Donets River in the Donetsk.

However, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, said the battle for Lyman continued, the ZN.ua website reported.

Sievierodonetsk, some 60 km (40 miles) from Lyman on the eastern side of the river and the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, was under heavy assault from the Russians.

"The fighting continues."

General staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

"Sievierodonetsk is under constant enemy fire," Ukrainian police posted on social media.

"With the use of artillery, Russian forces carried out assault operations in the area of the city of Sievierodonetsk," the General Staff said in a statement on its Facebook page.

Russian artillery was also pounding the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must take to close a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces.

"There was significant destruction in Lysychansk," police said.

Russian forces block civilian cars from evacuating to Zaporizhzhia

Russian forces had stopped 300-400 cars between 4-5 days from evacuating to the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Pravda reported on Sunday citing the regional military administration leader Oleksandr Starukh.

Starukh sometimes demanded money for the cars to be allowed to pass, the report stated. He also said that up to 1,000 residents from Mariupol arrive in Zaporizhzhia each week.

All critical infrastructure in Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk destroyed

Russian shelling has destroyed all of the critical infrastructures in the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday, describing the taking of the city as Russia's "principal aim" right now.

"As a result of Russian strikes on Sievierodonetsk, all the city's critical infrastructure is destroyed... More than two-thirds of the city’s housing stock is destroyed," Zelensky said in a televised speech.

"Taking Sievierodonetsk is the principal aim of the occupying contingents," he added.

The governor of Luhansk said on Friday that Russian troops had already entered Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian troops may have to retreat from the city to avoid capture, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said. It was not clear whether they had begun to pull out on Saturday.

If Russian forces do take the city, that will it will allow Moscow to declare that it has completely captured the Luhansk region. This, however, will not give Russia any other significant military or economic benefit, claimed the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), according to Pravda.

"Severodonetsk itself is important at this stage in the war primarily because it is the last significant population center in Luhansk Oblast that the Russians do not control"

ISW report

Seizing the city will give the Russians the option to declare they have captured the entirety of the Luhansk region but other than that there is no "significant military or economic benefit," the report added. 

In southern Ukraine, Russian forces shell the city of Mykolaiv (capitol of the Mykolaiv oblast) on Sunday, "In the morning, the Russian troops again shelled the residential quarter of Mykolaiv. We are estimating the resulting damage. Unfortunately, there are casualties,"  Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych posted on Telegram

 

Children casualties

At least 242 Ukrainian children have been killed and 440 have been wounded since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, according to Pravda.

These figures are not final, as it is complicated to make out the exact figures in hostilities areas, and in al the seized and liberated territories.

Asking for military aid

Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak repeated a call for US-made long-range multiple-rocket launchers. US officials have told Reuters such systems are actively being considered, with a decision possible in the coming days.

"It is hard to fight when you are attacked from 70 km away and have nothing to fight back with. Ukraine can return Russia behind the Iron Curtain, but we need effective weapons for that," Podolyak posted on Twitter.

President Volodymyr Zelensky voiced hopes in a late-night video address that Ukraine's allies would provide needed weapons, adding that he expected "good news" this week.

"We stand with Ukraine for the long-term. We'll continue to provide equipment to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces defend their country, and we're working intensively to find ways to resume grain exports & avert a global food crisis," British Prime Minister Borish Johnson told Zelensky Saturday. 

Destruction of civilian infrastructure

"As a result of the fighting, a high-voltage power line was broken" Kramatorsk and neighboring cities are now without electricity due to a broken power line," Kramatorsk mayor Alexander Honcharenko said on Facebook. 

Ukrainian forces in Donbas said in a brief Facebook post they had been on the defensive all day, fending off seven Russian attacks and destroying a tank.

Some 90% of buildings in Sievierodonetsk were damaged, Governor Gaidai said, with 14 high-rise buildings destroyed in the latest shelling.

Reuters could not independently verify the claims.

Catastrophic consequences

Zelensky said the military situation in the Donbas was very complicated, adding that defenses were holding up in a number of places, including Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

"It's indescribably difficult there. And I am grateful to all those who withstood this onslaught," he said.

The British defense ministry said in its daily intelligence report that if Russia succeeded in taking over those areas, the Kremlin would likely view it as a "substantive political achievement", which it could use to justify its invasion to the Russian people.

In a sign of frustration over Western differences on the war, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna said NATO had shown itself incapable of mounting a united response.

"We have to talk clearly about the catastrophic consequences for the future of all Europe if Ukraine is defeated," she said on Facebook.

Zelensky said in a television interview he believed Russia would agree to talks if Ukraine could recapture all the territory it has lost since the invasion began on Feb. 24.

Still, Zelensky ruled out the idea of using force to win back all the land Ukraine has lost to Russia since 2014, which includes the southern peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow annexed that year.

"I do not believe that we can restore all of our territories by military means. If we decide to go that way, we will lose hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Russia says it is waging a "special military operation" to demilitarise Ukraine and rid it of nationalists threatening Russian speakers there. Ukraine and Western countries say Russia's claims are a false pretext for a war of aggression.

Thousands of people, including many civilians, have been killed and several million have fled their homes, either for safer parts of Ukraine or to other countries.

Authorities in the second city of Kharkiv said six civilians were wounded in the latest Russian shelling.

Guns and grain

Pushing diplomatic efforts to find a solution to a conflict that has ramifications beyond Ukraine's borders, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a call on Saturday.

They urged him to lift a Russian blockade of the port of Odesa to allow Ukrainian grain exports, France said. The Kremlin said Putin told them Moscow was willing to discuss ways to make it possible for Ukraine to resume shipments of grain from Black Sea ports.

Ukraine is a major grain exporter, and the blockage of its exports threatens to result in food shortages in a number of countries, including in Africa.

Blow to Russian forces

In Crimea, authorities ordered to suspend the admission of civilians to hospitals in order to vacate the beds for the wounded, the Ukrainian General Staff stated on its Facebook page.

Ukrainian forces see this request as a blow to the Russians, "the occupation administration ordered to stop the reception of civilians in order to free beds for the wounded. Donor blood is being collected intensively," the statement reads.

Since the start of the war, the Russian forces have lost an estimate of 30,150 personnel, 1338 tanks and 13 warships, the Ukrainian General Staff updated Sunday on Facebook.

Casualties

Ukrainian forces have reportedly lost 138 combat aircraft, 447 tanks and other armored vehicles and more, Russian state media outlet Tass reported Sunday.

The Ukrainian General Staff of Armed Forces came out with a Sunday update on Russian casualties, stating that their opposition has lost 30,150 personnel, 1,338 tanks, 3,270 armored vehicles, 93 air defense systems, 174 helicopters, 207 airplanes, 504 UAVs, and 13 boats.