Heavy fighting and shelling rage around Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, with local officials saying Russian forces destroyed a bridge connecting the twin towns, cutting off a potential escape route for civilians and soldiers.

Serhiy Hayday, the military governor of the Luhansk region, said on June 12 that Russian forces had blown up the second of three bridges connecting the besieged Syevyerodonetsk with the larger Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River.

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Hayday said street-to-street fighting was taking place in Syevyerodonetsk as Ukrainian defenders desperately resisted the powerful advances of Russian armor and infantry.

Hayday said Ukrainian forces still controlled the Syevyerodonetsk industrial zone and a chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering from Russian shelling.

Despite the dire situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remained defiant, saying in a national speech that Ukrainian forces had prevented Russian troops from rapidly invading eastern Ukraine.

“Remember that in Russia, at the beginning of May, they hoped to seize all the [eastern Ukrainian region of] Donbas?” Zelenskiy said. “It’s already the 108th day of the war, already June. The Donbass is holding up.”

Syevyerodonetsk has been the focal point of recent fighting that Kyiv says could determine the outcome of the war, which began on February 24 with Russia’s large-scale and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The city itself was reduced to rubble by shelling and fighting, the situation resembling conditions in the southern port of Mariupol, which fell to Russian forces after a long and bloody battle in late May.

Hayday said the destruction of the bridge over the Siverskiy Donets River left only one transit route remaining to allow for the eventual evacuation of civilians and a withdrawal of troops from Syevyerodonetsk to Lysychansk.

An explosion hit the Azot nitrogen chemical plant in Syevyerodonetsk on June 11 and fires burned there until the evening. Hayday said hundreds of people were sheltering at the plant.

Meanwhile, Moscow-backed separatist fighters said they surrounded the plant and claimed Ukrainian defenders were trapped there.

“All escape routes are cut off for them,” wrote Rodion Miroshnik, a separatist official from the Luhansk region. Telegram.

The claims could not be independently confirmed.

Russian artillery also pounded Lysychansk on June 12. The city, which has about 100,000 inhabitants, is located on the west bank of the river, facing Syevyerodonetsk.

The General Staff also said that Russian troops had gained a foothold in the village of Bohorodychne, a village on the western bank of the Siverskiy Donets River, about 50 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk.

The capture of Bohorodychne puts the Russian forces in a good position to attack a larger and more important city, Sloviansk.

The destruction of Syevyerodonetsk is reminiscent of what happened in the port city of Mariupol, where residents and fighters hid in and under a steelworks before being surrounded and eventually surrendering to Russian forces.

The port city of Berdyansk, southwest of Mariupol, was rocked by three explosions early in the morning on June 12, with reports that an electrical substation was destroyed, leaving much of the city without power .

In the western region of Ternopil, at least 22 people were injured when four Russian cruise missiles hit a military installation and residential buildings, the regional governor said on June 12.

In a Facebook post, Volodymyr Trush said the missiles were launched from the Black Sea and the victims of the June 11 strike included a 12-year-old child.

Russian Ministry of Defense said the sea-launched Kalibr missiles that struck Chortkyv destroyed a “large depot of anti-tank missile systems, man-portable air defense systems, and shells supplied to the Kyiv regime by the United States and European countries.”

Ukrainian officials have not commented on whether an arms cache was destroyed in Chortkyv.

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, forcefully rebuffed a statement by US President Joe Biden, who claimed that prior to the February 24 invasion, Zelenskiy had “ignored” warnings from US intelligence services about an imminent Russian attack.

Mykhaylo Podolyak also criticized Western countries for not providing Ukraine with heavier weapons sooner.

“What other countries did to stop it, knowing Moscow’s plans — a question. If we had started getting heavy weapons in January, the situation might have been different,” he said. he writes on Twitter.

Another adviser to Zelenskiy suggested that Ukrainian casualties since the start of the war amounted to 10,000.

Oleksiy Arestovych was asked in a June 11 TV interview about the daily death toll for Ukrainian troops, which other Ukrainian officials say is around 100 a day.

Based on this number, interviewer Mark Feygin asked Arestovych if 10,000 was an accurate number. “Yes, somewhere like that,” Arestovych replied.

Verifiable figures for the number of war dead – Russian or Ukrainian – have been difficult to obtain. Ukraine has not released any official figures, saying it is a state secret. But Zelenskiy and other officials have repeatedly said that 100 a day is correct.

For Russia, meanwhile, Ukraine says its death toll has passed 30,000. Russia has not released any official tally since April, when it said around 1,300 of its troops were died during the war.

Western officials, however, say Russia’s death toll likely exceeds 20,000, which would exceed the total death toll the Soviet military suffered during its decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. .

In his nightly video address to Ukrainians, Zelenskiy renewed his call for Western countries to speed up arms deliveries.

Ukrainian troops “are doing everything to stop the offensive, as much as they can, as long as there are enough heavy weapons, modern artillery, everything we asked for and continue to ask our partners” , did he declare.

Zelenskiy claimed that Russia wanted to destroy all cities in Donbass, the region in eastern Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“Every city is not an exaggeration,” he said. “All these ruins of once happy cities, the black traces of fires, the craters of explosions – that’s all Russia can give to its neighbors, to Europe, to the world.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on June 11 that Russia was resorting to older, more powerful weapons and missiles because it lacked more accurate modern weaponry.

The ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing that Russian bombers likely launched heavy anti-ship missiles dating from the 1960s against ground targets in Ukraine. The missiles, which can be armed with nuclear warheads, were designed to destroy aircraft carriers.

With reports from Reuters, AP and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service

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