Ukraine defies Russian city ultimatum
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Ukraine defies Russian city ultimatum

Ukraine has ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk. The United States urged its allies to step up military support at a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Sievierodonetsk, now largely in ruins, has been the main focal point of the war for weeks.

Ukraine

Russia had told Ukrainian troops holed up in a chemical factory there to end “pointless resistance and lay down their arms” from Wednesday morning, thus using its advantage in the fight for control of eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine says more than 500 civilians, including 40 children, are staying alongside soldiers at the Azot chemical plant, sheltered from weeks of near-constant Russian bombardment.

The mayor of Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, said Russian troops tried to storm the city from different directions. Still, the Ukrainians continued to defend the town and were not completely cut off, even though all the river bridges had been destroyed.

“The situation is difficult but stable,” he told Ukrainian television.

“The escape routes are dangerous, but they are there.”

He did not refer to the Russian ultimatum.

Russia had said it would let civilians leave the factory on Wednesday. Still, Russian-backed separatists said Ukrainian shelling had thwarted the plan, meaning people would be taken to areas they control.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region with Sievierodonetsk, said the Ukrainian army continued to defend the city and prevented Russian forces from taking its sister city, Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets River.

“Nevertheless, the Russians are close, and the population is suffering, and houses are being destroyed,” he posted online just before the Russian deadline at 8 a.m. in Moscow.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield reports.

Luhansk is one of two eastern provinces that Russia claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Together they form the Donbas, a Ukrainian industrial region where Russia has focused its attack.

Speaking to dozens of NATO defense ministers who gathered in Brussels to discuss their next steps, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the invasion was at a “critical moment”.

“We can’t afford to give up, and we can’t pick up steam. The stakes are too high,” he said at the start of the talks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “extremely focused on increasing support” for Ukraine.

The White House is expected to announce approximately $1 billion ($A1.4 billion) in new arms aid to Ukraine as soon as possible Wednesday, including anti-ship missile systems, artillery missiles, and howitzer cartridges, people familiar with the packages said. †

The bombing of the Azot ammonia plant in Sievierodonetsk echoes the earlier siege of the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians sheltered from Russian shelling.

Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken into Russian custody.

The mayor said those in Azot survive on water from wells and food supplies.

British intelligence said the fighters could survive underground, and Russian forces would likely remain focused on them, preventing them from attacking elsewhere.

But Ukraine’s troops on the eastern front are exhausted and outnumbered, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged on Wednesday for more European sanctions against Russia.

He also said that Russia’s territorial ambitions stretched beyond Ukraine to part of Eastern Europe, from Poland to Bulgaria, without providing evidence for his claim.

In the Donbas, shelling could be heard near Niu-York, where Ukrainian troops said Russia was throwing everything into a battle.

“For three and a half months, we face the greatest country in the world,” said a 22-year-old Ukrainian soldier nicknamed “Viking”.

“They have suffered heavy losses in vehicles and personnel, but they are not retreating.”