Ukraine clashes center with Sievierodonetsk
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Ukraine clashes center with Sievierodonetsk

Ukrainian and Russian troops are fighting on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk, in Ukraine’s Luhansk province, as European Union countries have failed to agree on a ban on Russian oil imports.

Ukraine clashes center with Sievierodonetsk

Russian shelling has reduced much of the city to ruins, but Ukrainian defenses have slowed down the wider Russian campaign in the Donbas region.

Luhansk region governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had penetrated Sievierodonetsk’s southeastern and northeastern outskirts.

“They use the same tactics over and over. They shoot for several hours – three, four, five hours – in a row and then attack,” said Gaidai.

“Those who attack die. Then again, shelling, attacks, and so on, until they break through somewhere.

He said that with temperatures rising, there was a “terrible smell of death” on the city’s outskirts.

But he said Ukrainian forces had pushed Russian troops south from the village of Toshkivka, potentially thwarting Russia’s attempt to encircle the area.

As the battle continued on the battlefield, EU countries meeting in Brussels to discuss more sanctions failed to agree on a ban on Russian oil imports despite last-minute haggling for a summit.

The EU has issued five sanctions packages against Russia since its forces invaded Ukraine on February 24. Still, an agreement on oil sanctions has proved elusive as many countries depend on Russian crude oil.

“There is no compromise at all at the moment,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

His country is the main prop for a deal.

President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said Russia was ready to facilitate grain exports from Ukrainian ports — a possibility that could alleviate a food crisis, as the war and sanctions to isolate Russia have pushed the price of grain and other commodities.

Russia says the focus of what it calls its “special military operation” is now to capture the entire Donbas region, made up of two provinces, Luhansk and Donetsk, which it claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the “liberation” of Donbas is an “unreserved priority”.

Conquering Sievierodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk on the other bank of the Siverskyi Donets River would give Russia effective control of Luhansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of death and destruction.

Ukraine says its forces in recent days have pushed Russian troops back into defensive positions in three villages – Andriyivka, Lozove, and Bilohorka – all on the south bank of the Inhulets River that forms Kherson’s border.

A French journalist, Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff of television channel BFM, was killed Monday near Sievierodonetsk when shelling hit the vehicle he was driving as civilians were allowed to leave the area.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who was visiting Ukraine at the time, demanded an investigation.

In the Netherlands, GasTerra, which buys and trades gas on behalf of the Dutch government, said it would stop receiving gas from Russia’s Gazprom from Tuesday after it refused to comply with Russia’s demand for payment in rubles.

US and European leaders have blamed Russia for holding ransom money for the world by blocking Ukrainian ports. The United Nations, saying a global food crisis is deepening, is trying to strike a deal to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

In consultation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Putin said Russia is ready to facilitate unimpeded grain exports from Ukrainian ports in cooperation with Turkey, the Kremlin said.

“Emphasis was placed on ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov seas and eliminating the mining threat in their waters,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s conversation with Erdogan.

Putin also said that if the sanctions are lifted, Russia could export significant quantities of fertilizers and agricultural products.