BAKHMUT, Ukraine (AP) — Block-by-block fighting raged Friday in two key eastern Ukrainian cities Friday, the 100th day of Russia’s war, slowly grinding them to rubble.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said fierce battles continued in Sievierodonetsk, where about 13,000 remaining residents took shelter in basements to escape relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian forces reclaimed 20% of city terrain that had been taken by Russian troops, he added later.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that there had been “some progress” in the battle for Sievierodonetsk but gave no specifics.
Haidai said Russian forces also pummeled neighboring Lysychansk. Some 20,000 residents remain there — about one-fifth of Lysychansk’s prewar population — even though Russian shelling has shattered 60% of the residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said. A civilian was killed in the shelling there on Friday, Haidai said.
Russian forces have been trying to encircle Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the only two cities in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province not controlled by Russian forces or Moscow-backed separatists. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces make up the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Russia is intent on capturing.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia now controls more than 90% of Luhansk and is likely to take it over completely in the next two weeks.
But Haidai said progress made in the past two days shows that Ukraine may be able to hold off the Russian attack for that duration, the timeframe for the arrival of new, advanced Western weapons.
Mykola Sunhurovsky of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank, said that because of Ukrainian resistance, the Russian offensive in the region has started to slow, and “they have lost too many forces and need a tactical break.”
He said that “time is working in Ukraine’s favor as supplies of Western weapons are increasing, making the Kremlin nervous.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian troops have succeeded in their main stated task of protecting civilians in the separatist-controlled areas.
Russia controls almost one-fifth of the country, Zelenskyy said this week. But the president remained defiant in a video message marking 100 days of war.
“We have defended Ukraine for 100 days already,” he said. “Victory will be ours!”
In other developments:
— Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the chairman of the African Union, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, in talks aimed at how to get grain supplies moving again. Wheat prices have soared because of the war. Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, has urged the West to lift sanctions against it shippers so that grain starts flowing freely. Ukraine blamed the growing global food crisis not on the sanctions but on Russia’s bottling up of the ports Ukraine uses to export grain
— The European Union formally approved an embargo on Russian oil. The 27-nation EU said imports of Russian crude will be phased out over six months, and other refined petroleum products over eight months. Landlocked countries that depend on Russian supplies — like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – will get “a temporary exemption.”
— The EU also imposed another round of sanctions, these targeting Russian military officers, including top brass accused of war crimes in Bucha and during the siege of Mariupol. Col.-Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, known as the “Butcher of Mariupol,” was among those on the list.
— German lawmakers approved $107 billion in new spending to strengthen the country’s military, three months after Russia’s invasion jolted the government into action. Officials say the German military has suffered from years of neglect.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.