© Reuters. Smoke rises after a military strike on a compound of Sievierodonetsk’s Azot Chemical Plant, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine June 10, 2022. Picture taken June 10, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak
By Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder
KYIV (Reuters) – Russian forces fired cruise missiles to destroy a large depot containing U.S. and European weapons in western Ukraine’s Ternopil region, Interfax reported on Sunday, as street fighting raged in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk.
The governor of the Ternopil region said a rocket attack on the city of Chortkiv fired from the Black Sea had partly destroyed a military facility, injuring 22 people. A local official said there were no weapons stored there.
Reuters could not independently confirm the differing accounts.
Moscow has repeatedly slammed the United States and other nations for supplying Ukraine with weapons. President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that Russia would strike new targets if the West supplied longer-range missiles to Ukraine for use in high-precision mobile rocket systems.
Ukrainian leaders have renewed pleas to Western countries in recent days to speed up deliveries of heavy weapons as Russian forces pound the east of the country with artillery.
Sievierodonetsk has become epicentre of the battle for control over the industrialised Donbas region in the east, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Parts of the city have been pulverised in some of the bloodiest fighting since Moscow began its invasion on Feb. 24.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Sunday that Ukrainian and Russian forces were still fighting street by street in Sievierodonetsk. He said that while Russian forces have taken most of the city, Ukrainian troops remain in control of an industrial area and chemical plant where hundreds of civilians are sheltering.
After being forced to scale back its initial campaign goals Moscow has turned to expanding control in the Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists have held a swath of territory since 2014.
Ukraine has said some 800 people were hiding in bomb shelters under the Azot plant, including employees and city residents.
“No one can say whether and how many victims there have been in the last 24 hours in Sievierodonetsk, where intense fighting continues,” Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday.
“Everyone wants to evacuate now, probably, but so far there is no such possibility,”
In Lysychansk – Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Donets River – a woman was killed in Russian shelling while four houses and a shopping centre were destroyed, Gaidai said.
To the south and southwest of Sievierodonetsk, Russian forces were firing mortars and artillery around a number of settlements, according to a daily update from Ukraine’s general staff. But it said Ukrainian forces had repulsed Russian attempts to advance towards some communities.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
UKRAINE RESILIENT, NEEDS SUPPORT
Ukrainian forces have proven more resilient than expected, but the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said that as they use the last of their stocks of Soviet-era weapons and munitions, they will require consistent Western support.
The Interfax report on Sunday said Russian forces had used Kalibr cruise missiles to attack the large depot. It also said Russian forces had shot down three Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jets near Donetsk and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.
Russian authorities have started handing out Russian passports in two occupied Ukrainian cities – Kherson and Melitopol, Russian news agencies said. It was not known how many were distributed.
Putin calls the invasion a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.
Ukraine has sought to deepen its ties with the West as a result of the war. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday the European Union executive’s opinion on Ukraine’s request to join the EU would be ready in the coming week.
All 27 EU governments would have to agree to grant Ukraine candidate status, after which there would be extensive talks on reforms required before the country could be considered for membership.