Russia claimed on Tuesday that its forces had taken full control of residential areas of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine after Kyiv said its outnumbered troops were fighting in the main eastern hub.
The weeks-long brutal competition for the key regional city of Lugansk continued to rage, with civilians fleeing and some 800 taking refuge in a chemical plant.
“The residential areas of the city of Severodonetsk have been completely liberated,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
The Russian army is still seeking to take control of the “industrial area and settlements closest” to the city, he added.
War hits global economy
The impact of the war continued to be felt, with the World Bank lowering its estimate of global growth to 2.9%, 1.2 percentage points lower than the January forecast, largely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The toxic combination of weak growth and rising prices could trigger widespread suffering in dozens of poorer countries still struggling to recover from the upheavals of the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank said.
“The risk of stagflation is considerable with potentially destabilizing consequences for low- and middle-income economies,” World Bank President David Malpass told reporters.
“For many countries, recession will be hard to avoid,” Malpass said.
The bank also announced an additional $1.5 billion in aid for Ukraine, bringing the total planned support package to more than $4 billion.
Talks on easing the grain blockade
Amid dire warnings of global food shortages partly blamed on the war, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has arrived in Turkey to discuss “safety corridors” allowing Ukrainian grain to leave the country.
A Russian naval blockade has prevented Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters, from shipping wheat and other commodities, forcing prices soaring.
“Right now we have about 20-25 million tonnes stuck. In the fall it could be 70-75 million tonnes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday.
At the request of the United Nations, Turkey has offered its services to escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines, some of which have been detected near the Turkish coast.
Turkish Agriculture Minister Vahit Kirisci hinted that Ankara and Kyiv had reached an agreement to buy grain at 25% below market price, local media reported.
“But they [Ukrainians] have a dilemma between security and export,” he said. “Russia and Ukraine trust us.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “appreciated Turkey’s efforts to unblock Ukrainian ports”.
However, “We reject any agreement that does not take Ukraine’s interests into consideration,” he added, stressing Kyiv’s wish that Western countries play an active role in escorting outgoing grain convoys. from Ukrainian ports to the Black Sea.
Battle of Severodonetsk
Meanwhile, along the main front of the war in Donbass, the heavy shelling did not seem to stop.
“The frontline situation in Ukraine has not changed significantly over the past 24 hours,” Zelensky said, adding that “the defense of Donbass continues.”
Moscow has been pushing for control of Severodonetsk as part of its bid to conquer a large swathe of eastern Ukraine, but Kyiv forces have so far managed to hold on.
Ukrainian sources noted the overwhelming superiority of Russian artillery in the area.
Zelensky warned that Ukrainian forces in the city were outnumbered and that the Russians “are stronger”, as fierce street fighting raged.
Lanny Davis, US attorney for Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash, said 800 civilians had taken refuge in bunkers at the massive Firtash Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk.
“These 800 civilians include about 200 of the plant’s 3,000 employees and about 600 residents of the city of Severodonetsk,” Davis said.
Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that Russian troops were also preparing to attack the key town of Sloviansk, about 65 kilometers away. [40 miles] west of Severodonetsk.
Its capture would open the road to Kramatorsk, the main city in the Ukrainian part of the Donetsk region.
The Russian general “killed”
The head of Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, confirmed on Tuesday the death of another Russian general in the fighting.
Pushilin expressed on Telegram his “sincere condolences to the family and friends” of Major General Roman Kutuzov, “who showed by example how to serve the fatherland”.
Ukrainian forces claimed to have killed several of the Russian top brass, but their exact number is not known as Moscow is tight-lipped about casualties.