Russia-Ukraine war: Sievierodonetsk falls to Russia; we will take back all our cities, vows Zelenskiy – live

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Russia says it has full control over Sievierodonetsk

Russian forces have established full control over the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske, a senior defense ministry official said in a statement on Saturday.

Reuters reports:

Ukrainian officials said earlier in the day that their troops had withdrawn from Sievierodonetsk after a prolonged battle with regular Russian troops and fighters from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

“As a result of successful offensive operations, units of the people’s militia of the LPR, with the support of Russian troops ... completely liberated the cities of Severodonetsk and Borivske,” said defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

He said the attack had thwarted what he called an Ukrainian attempt to turn the city’s Azot chemical plant into a stubborn centre of resistance.

Konashenkov said LPR fighters now controlled the plant, where several hundred citizens had been sheltering. He made no mention of their fate.

The Azot chemical plant is seen through a broken window in the city of Severodonetsk of Luhansk area, Ukraine, 19 June 2022.
The Azot chemical plant is seen through a broken window in the city of Severodonetsk of Luhansk area, Ukraine, 19 June 2022. Photograph: Oleksandr Ratushniak/EPA

Ukraine will take back all the cities it has lost – Zelenskiy

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that Ukraine will win back all the cities it has lost to Russia, including Sievierodonetsk.

All our cities – Sievierodonetsk, Donetsk, Luhansk – we’ll get them all back,” he said in a late-night video address.

It was the only time in the address that he mentioned Sievierodonetsk, which finally fell to Moscow’s forces earlier in the day after weeks of brutal fighting.

Zelenskiy also admitted that the war was becoming difficult to emotionally handle. He said that Ukraine has been struck by 45 Russian missiles and rockets in the last 24 hours, which he described as a cynical but doomed attempt to break his people’s spirits.

At this stage of the war it’s spiritually difficult, emotionally difficult ... we don’t have a sense of long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon,” he said.

Zelenskiy continued to plead for more weapons, saying that the relentless missile attacks confirmed that sanctions against Russia were not enough to help Ukraine.

The air defense systems – the modern systems that our partners have – should not be on training grounds or in storage, but in Ukraine, where they are needed now, needed more than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Ukraine will defend its eastern front from higher ground in the city of Lysychansk after withdrawing from a Russian onslaught in its sister city and Kyiv will try to stabilise the situation, Ukraine’s military spy chief said on Saturday.

Reuters reports:

Russia has been replenishing forces with reservists as part of a covert mobilisation and it is pointless to hope Moscow will simply run out of troops in this war, Kyrylo Budanov told Reuters.

The 36-year-old head of the defence ministry’s shadowy Main Directorate of Intelligence spoke in a rare interview in Kyiv hours before Russia claimed full control of the city of Sievierodonetsk where Ukrainian forces had been bombarded for weeks.

Russia used the tactic “it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth. Given the conditions, holding the defence in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defence operations,” he said.

The only way path to victory for Ukraine, he said, was through sheer military force in order to retake all its territory.

The strategy is very simple. Stabilise the situation. Receive the required amount of equipment and prepare the required amount of forces and means to start the counter-offensive to return all our territory,” he said.

He said he was calm about the possibility of Russia eventually openly announcing a mobilisation as it would mean Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin facing awkward questions at home.

They really fear this – this is the main reason why the mobilisation is happening in a hidden way, particular by using,” reservists, he said.

“The military units that took part on 24 February and those same military units now are in most cases on their second and in some cases even their third group of personnel,” he said.

Moscow has so far stopped short of calling a general military mobilisation in what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine.

Budanov said any counteroffensive would hinge on various factors including having a well-equipped concentration of forces, which would depend on Ukraine getting help from foreign partners.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov, chief of the Military Intelligence of Ukraine, speaks during an interview with Reuters, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 25, 2022.
Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Russian attacks have killed three civilians on Saturday in Bakhmut, New York and Pervomaiske in the Donetsk region, according to the region’s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

Additionally, Russian missile strikes have killed at least three and injured four others in Sarny, a city in Rivne, a western region in Ukraine.

⚡️UPDATE: Russian missile strike kills at least 3, injures 4 in Sarny, Rivne Oblast.

According to Rivne Governor Vitaly Koval, missiles hit two car repair facilities. Authorities continue going through the rubble, and the number of casualties can grow, the governor added.

— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) June 25, 2022

The US has announced that it will provide 18 patrol boats to Ukraine as part of the 13th security package promised on Thursday.

“Included in the package announced Thursday are two 35-foot, small-unit riverine craft; six 40-foot maritime combat craft; and ten 34-foot, Dauntless Sea Ark patrol boats,” the Department of Defense said on Thursday.

A senior defense official at the Pentagon said, “These are largely to protect the riverways and to enable Ukraine to maintain its control of the riverways. They can also be used in ... close-in coastal areas.”

Russia will send missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Belarus in the next few months, Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Saturday while hosting Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin said.

He also offered to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons, amid soaring tensions with the West over Ukraine. Lukashenko has previously asked Putin to “adapt” the planes.

Many Su-25 (aircrafts) are in service with the Belarusian military. They could be upgraded in an appropriate way,” Putin said, adding, “This modernisation should be carried out in aircraft factories in Russia and the training of personnel should start in accordance with this,” he added.

“We will agree on how to accomplish this,” Putin said.

Lukashenko said last month that his country had bought Iskander nuclear-capable missiles and S-400 anti-aircraft anti-missile systems from Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting in Saint Petersburg, on June 25, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting in Saint Petersburg, on June 25, 2022. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

Russia says it has full control over Sievierodonetsk

Russian forces have established full control over the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske, a senior defense ministry official said in a statement on Saturday.

Reuters reports:

Ukrainian officials said earlier in the day that their troops had withdrawn from Sievierodonetsk after a prolonged battle with regular Russian troops and fighters from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

“As a result of successful offensive operations, units of the people’s militia of the LPR, with the support of Russian troops ... completely liberated the cities of Severodonetsk and Borivske,” said defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

He said the attack had thwarted what he called an Ukrainian attempt to turn the city’s Azot chemical plant into a stubborn centre of resistance.

Konashenkov said LPR fighters now controlled the plant, where several hundred citizens had been sheltering. He made no mention of their fate.

The Azot chemical plant is seen through a broken window in the city of Severodonetsk of Luhansk area, Ukraine, 19 June 2022.
The Azot chemical plant is seen through a broken window in the city of Severodonetsk of Luhansk area, Ukraine, 19 June 2022. Photograph: Oleksandr Ratushniak/EPA

Russia has pushed back against claims that it is stopping grain export from Ukrainian ports.

In a statement on Saturday, Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “Russia has never prevented grain export from Ukraine’s ports.”

She went on to add, “Safe navigation in Ukrainian territorial waters and the use of ports are currently impossible because of the high threat of mines and shelling. This threat was created by Kyiv.”

A man processes wheat in Odessa, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022 as Russian-Ukrainian war continues. While the Ukrainian government and several international leaders seek alternative methods to convey thousands of tons of grain stock from the “blocked” Odessa Port to European countries, Ukrainian farmers seek new ways to market the crops that remain in their warehouses.
A man processes wheat in Odessa, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022 as Russian-Ukrainian war continues. While the Ukrainian government and several international leaders seek alternative methods to convey thousands of tons of grain stock from the ‘blocked’ Odessa port to European countries, Ukrainian farmers seek new ways to market the crops that remain in their warehouses. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A summary of today's developments

Russian forces have fully occupied Sievierodonetsk, the mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city said, confirming Ukraine’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month, after weeks of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. Pro-Russian separatists said Moscow’s forces were now attacking the last major Ukrainian-held bastion in eastern Luhansk province, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. The Ukrainian military said its troops had withdrawn from the strategic frontline city of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine is regrouping its forces from the rubble of the city of Sievierodonetsk to higher ground in neighbouring Lysychansk to gain a tactical advantage over Russia, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said. Kyrylo Budanov told Reuters that Ukrainian forces would continue their defence of that front from Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine and that it was no longer possible to hold the line in Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine stands with Moldova amid threats from Moscow, the country’s foreign minister has said. “We stand with the people and the government of friendly Moldova amid renewed threats coming from Moscow. All Russia has left is spitting out threats at other states after decades of failed policies based on aggression, coercion, and disrespect. This only shows Russia’s weakness,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. Russian missiles have hit military infrastructure in northern Ukraine, local officials have said. Reuters reports that Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of the Zhytomyr region in the north of the country, said strikes on a military target killed at least one soldier.

Russian shelling damaged a nuclear research facility in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said.
The strike damaged some of the site’s buildings and infrastructure but did not affect the area housing nuclear fuel and radiation levels there are within a normal range, it said in an online post. “The probability of new damage ... which can directly affect the state of nuclear and radiation safety, remains high due to shelling by Russian troops,” it said. Reuters could not independently verify the inspectorate’s account on the incident.

Ukraine troops withdraw from Sievierodonetsk

The Ukrainian military said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from the strategic frontline city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine.
“After the withdrawal of our military units, the enemy is consolidating its positions in ... Sievierodonetsk,” it said in an update.

It comes after Russian forces are now in control of the city of in eastern Ukraine, its mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian TV.

Budanov added Russia is using its reserve forces in a covert mobilisation to replenish its ranks in eastern Ukraine and there is no point in waiting for its offensive potential to diminish.

He told Reuters he believed Ukraine could only achieve a victory against Russia through military force.

“We shouldn’t wait for a miracle that they will tire and stop wanting to fight and so on. We will win back our territory as a result of our counteroffensive,” said Budanov, head of the defence intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.

Budanov said Ukraine should see “visible results” of its counteroffensive in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine’s south from August.

Ukraine is regrouping its forces from the rubble of the city of Sievierodonetsk to higher ground in neighbouring Lysychansk to gain a tactical advantage over Russia, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said.

In an interview in Kyiv, Kyrylo Budanov told Reuters that Ukrainian forces would continue their defence of that front from Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine and that it was no longer possible to hold the line in Sievierodonetsk.

“The activities happening in the area of Sievierodonetsk are a tactical regrouping of our troops. This is a withdrawal to advantageous positions to obtain a tactical advantage,” said, Budanov, head of the defence intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.

Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth. Given the conditions, holding the defence in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defence operations,” he said.

Asked if he meant Lysychansk, he said: “Yes, this is the only higher ground.”

The mayors of several European capitals have been duped into holding video calls with a deepfake of their counterpart in Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko.

The mayor of Berlin, Franziska Giffey, took part in a scheduled call on the Webex video conferencing platform on Friday with a person she said looked and sounded like Klitschko.

“There were no signs that the video conference call wasn’t being held with a real person,” her office said in a statement.

Ukraine said it came under “massive bombardment” from neighbouring Belarus as clashes were reported in the streets of the eastern city of Lysychansk, AFP reports.

Twenty rockets “fired from the territory of Belarus and from the air” targeted the village of Desna in the northern Chernigiv region, Ukraine’s northern military command said.

It said infrastructure was hit, but no casualties had yet been reported.

Belarus has provided logistic support to Moscow since the 24 February invasion, particularly in the first few weeks, and like Russia has been targeted by western sanctions but is officially not involved in the conflict.

“Today’s strike is directly linked to Kremlin efforts to pull Belarus as a co-belligerent into the war in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian intelligence service said.

Russian helicopters have launched missiles at a border village in the northeastern Ukrainian province of Sumy province.

Two Russian helicopters “carried out six launches of unguided missiles” on the Krasnopillia village in Sumy, near the Ukrainian border with Russia, Kyiv Independent reports, citing Ukraine’s border guard service.

No casualties have been reported yet.

The mayors of several European capitals were tricked into holding video calls with a deepfake of the Kyiv mayor, Vitali Klitschko, last week.

There were “no signs that the video conference call wasn’t being held with a real person”, said the office of the mayor of Berlin, Franziska Giffey, who was among those who were duped.

Ukrainian troops pulling out of Sievierodonetsk

Russian forces are attempting to blockade the eastern city of Lysychansk, the region’s governor said on Saturday, after Ukrainian troops were forced to begin pulling out of neighbouring city Sievierodonetsk.

Here is an update on the situation in the cities, which are in the eastern Luhansk province (one of two provinces making up the Donbas region).

Russian and separatist fights are trying to block the city of Lysychansk from the south, Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, said on Facebook.
A spokesman for the separatist forces, Andrei Marochko, said the fighters had entered Lysychansk and that there was fighting in the city centre, Russia’s Interfax news agency reports.
The two cities and surrounding areas are the last major pockets of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, 95% of which is under Russian and local separatist control. Some Ukrainian troops remain in the Azot chemical factory on the city’s edge, along with about 500 civilians. A separatist representative, Ivan Filiponenko, said 800 civilians were evacuated from the plant overnight, Interfax reported. Ukraine’s troops have ‘almost left’ Sievierodonetsk, the local mayor has said
A tank of the Ukrainian Armed Forces its seen in the industrial area of the city of Sievierodonetsk
A tank of the Ukrainian Armed Forces its seen in the industrial area of the city of Sievierodonetsk. Photograph: Reuters
Gennady Goncharov, 67, surveys the damage of his apartment following previous night’s shelling in Donetsk
Gennady Goncharov, 67, surveys damage to his apartment following previous night’s shelling in Donetsk. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
People clean up debris next to an office building near the centre of Kharkiv
People clean up debris next to an office building near the centre of Kharkiv. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters
A woman carries her belongings and a cat while leaving a damaged house following recent shelling in the Petrovsky district of Donetsk
A woman carries her belongings and a cat while leaving a damaged house following recent shelling in the Petrovsky district of Donetsk. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Almost all of Ukraine’s troops have now withdrawn from the strategic frontline city Sievierodonetsk, the local mayor has said.

Fierce fighting over the city has been ongoing for weeks against advancing Russian forces.

Reuters reports that mayor Oleksandr Stryuk did not confirm whether a full withdrawal was under way, but told national television:

Unfortunately, they have almost left the city.

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