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Ukraine claims partial recapture of Severodonetsk amid fierce fighting with Russian troops

Updates from Day 100 of the invasion

  • Luhansk official says Ukrainian troops have recaptured about 20 per cent of Russian-held parts of Severodonetsk.
  • A driver is killed and two Reuters journalists injured after coming under fire.
  • Ukrainian president says he expects further ‘good news’ about Western-supplied weapons.
  • Russia summoning heads of U.S. media outlets in Moscow to meeting.

Ukraine on Friday said it recaptured a large chunk of territory in fierce fighting for Severodonetsk and foiled an attempt by Russian troops to advance from the devastated eastern industrial city on the 100th day of Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s defence minister said his troops were already training in Europe to operate new, advanced missile systems pledged this week by the United States and Britain, which Kyiv hopes will help swing the battle in its favour.

A war that Western countries believe Russia planned to win within hours has ground on for more than three months at a cost of thousands of lives and disruption to the global economy. Moscow was driven back from Kyiv and launched a huge new assault in the east.

Rejecting Western criticism that the war is to blame for rising global food prices and is hurting poor countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Moscow was preventing Ukrainian ports from exporting cereals.

A woman is seen fleeing a house set on fire by shelling in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Friday. (Alexei Alexandrov/The Associated Press)

Reuters reached Severodonetsk on Thursday and was able to verify that Ukrainians still held part of the city. Troops drove toward a plume of black smoke at high speed over roads littered with wrecked armoured vehicles. One soldier sat in the back seat, his face streaked with blood from injuries.

At another location in the city, Ukrainian troops, including foreign volunteers, were unloading weapons from a truck.

“We’re gonna push the Russians back. It will take a day, a month, or a year,” said Zurab Kakalidze, a 22-year-old Georgian, noting the time frame didn’t matter. “We are on the right side of history.”

On Friday, the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk region Serhiy Gaidai told national television that Ukrainian troops had recaptured around 20 per cent of the territory they had lost to Russian forces in Severodonetsk.

Reuters could not independently verify Gaidai’s claim.

Two Reuters journalists were injured and a driver killed after their vehicle came under fire as they tried to reach Severodonetsk from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Russians ‘simply destroying everything’

Gaidai said the Russians were shelling Ukrainian positions for hours and then advancing, only to be repulsed by defenders who had not been hurt, before repeating the pattern.

“This is how they are moving forward, step by step, because with artillery, aircraft, mortars, they are simply destroying everything,” he said.

A military vehicle driven by members of a foreign volunteer unit fighting with the Ukrainian army is seen on a road in Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Serhii Nuzhnenko)

“But as soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry, they will just run.”

Russian soldiers attempted to advance toward Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donetsk River from Severodonetsk, but were forced to retreat, Ukraine’s military general staff said.

Need for weapons in Sloviansk

In neighbouring Donetsk province, also a target of Moscow’s eastern offensive, Russian troops were just 15 kilometres outside the city of Sloviansk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Donetsk will not fall quickly, but it needs more weapons to keep the attackers at bay, Kyrylenko said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an overnight address that Kyiv was expecting more “good news” on foreign arms after the latest $700-million US weapons package for Ukraine.

“Victory will be ours,” he said later on Friday in a video address from outside his Kyiv office to mark 100 days of the war.

An armoured vehicle is towed on a highway near the city of Soledar, in Ukraine’s Donbas region on Friday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

The weapons package includes four M142 high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS. Washington said this week it expected Ukrainians would need three weeks of training to use the rocket launchers, which can launch precision-guided rockets with a range of more than 65 kilometres and could help negate Russia’s artillery fire-power advantage.

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters a negotiated settlement in Ukraine would be needed at some point, but that in the meantime, the United States would help the Ukrainians defend themselves.

Moscow says the Western weapons will pour “fuel on the fire” but will not change the course of what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of dangerous nationalists.

Despite being driven from the north of Ukraine in March after a failed assault on the capital, Russia still controls around a fifth of the country, with about half seized in 2014 and half captured since launching its invasion on Feb. 24.

Crosses mark the sites of graves in a residential area of Mariupol, Ukraine, as seen in this photograph taken on Friday. (AFP/Getty Images)

For both sides, the massive Russian assault in the east in recent weeks has been one of the deadliest phases of the war, with Ukraine saying it was losing 60-100 soldiers a day.

Moscow has made slow but steady progress, squeezing Ukrainian forces inside a pocket in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, but has so far failed to encircle them.

WATCH | Living through war in Mykolaiv: 

Mykolaiv residents on the razor’s edge of Russia’s invasion

For the past three months, the city of Mykolaiv has stood as a barrier between Russian troops in Ukraine’s east and cities like Odesa in the west. Residents are patient, live on the razor’s edge.

Kyiv, meanwhile, hopes the Russian advance will leave Moscow’s forces so depleted that Ukraine can launch counter-offensives and recapture territory in months to come.

Ripple effect 

The war has had a devastating impact on the global economy, especially for poor countries that import food. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading sources of grain and cooking oil, but those supplies were cut from the market by the closure of its Black Sea ports, with more than 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos.

“Failure to open those ports will result in famine,” UN crisis co-ordinator Amin Awad said in Geneva, saying a grain shortage could affect 1.4 billion people and trigger mass migration.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths on Friday ended two days of “frank and constructive discussions” with Russian officials in Moscow on facilitating exports of Ukraine grain from Black Sea ports, a UN spokesman said.

The talks came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tries to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports.

Kyiv and its allies blame Moscow for blockading the ports, which Ukraine has mined to prevent a Russian amphibious assault.

Putin blamed Western sanctions and said sanctions should be lifted on Belarus to allow Ukraine to export through its neighbour, an ally of Moscow.

A boy rides a kick scooter Friday past a destroyed residential building in the town of Irpin, Ukraine. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Also Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was summoning the heads of U.S. media outlets in Moscow to a meeting next Monday to notify them of tough measures in response to U.S. restrictions against Russian media.

Russia has accused Western countries of imposing unfair restrictions on its media abroad, including bans on some state-backed news outlets. Lawmakers passed a bill last month giving prosecutors powers to shut foreign media bureaus in Moscow if a Western country has been “unfriendly” to Russian media.

Washington has imposed sanctions against some state-run Russian TV stations, which it says have spread disinformation to bolster Russia’s war in Ukraine.