Ukrainian official warns of ‘disaster’ in captured town

POKROVSK, Ukraine — A Ukrainian regional official warned on Friday of deteriorating living conditions in a town captured by Russian forces two weeks ago, saying Sievierodonetsk was without water, electricity or a working sewage system while the bodies of the dead are decomposing in burning apartment buildings.

Governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russians were launching indiscriminate artillery barrages as they tried to secure their gains in Luhansk province in eastern Ukraine. This week Moscow claimed full control of Luhansk, but the governor and other Ukrainian officials said their troops retained a small part of the province.

“Luhansk was not completely captured even though the Russians committed their full arsenal to achieve this goal,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “Fierce battles are taking place in several villages on the border of the region. The Russians are relying on tanks and artillery to advance, leaving the ground scorched.

Russian forces “hit any building they think could be a fortified position”, he said. “They are not stopped by the fact that civilians are left there and they die in their homes and yards. They keep shooting.

Occupied Sievierodonetsk, meanwhile, “is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the governor wrote on social media. “The Russians have completely destroyed all critical infrastructure, and they are unable to repair anything.”

Haidai reported last week that about 8,000 residents remain in the city, which had a population of around 100,000 before the war. Some Ukrainian officials and soldiers said Russian forces razed Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of Luhansk province, before Ukrainian troops were ordered out of the city late last month to avoid their encirclement and capture.

Luhansk is one of two provinces that make up Donbass, a region of mines and factories where pro-Moscow separatists fought the Ukrainian army for eight years and declared independent republics which Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized before to send troops to Ukraine.

After asserting full control of Lugansk, Putin said Russian forces would have a chance to rest and recover, but other parts of eastern Ukraine came under heavy shelling. The Russian leader has warned Kyiv that he should quickly accept Moscow’s terms or prepare for the worst.

“Everyone should know that, overall, we haven’t even started anything serious yet,” Putin said Thursday in an interview with leaders of the Kremlin-controlled parliament.

Ukraine’s presidential office said on Friday that at least 12 civilians had been killed and 30 others injured by Russian shelling in the past 24 hours. Two towns in Donetsk – the other province of Donbass – suffered the heaviest barrage, with six dead and 21 injured.

In northeastern Ukraine, four more people were killed and nine were injured in Kharkiv, the country’s second city, where Russian shelling hit residential areas.

Commenting on Putin’s disturbing statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader was reacting to statements by the Ukrainian government and its Western allies regarding Russia’s defeat on the battlefield.

“Russia’s potential is so great that only a small part of it was used in the special military operation,” Peskov told reporters. “And so the Western statements are utter nonsense and only add to the grief of the Ukrainian people.”

In other developments:

— The German parliament overwhelmingly approved Sweden’s and Finland’s applications for NATO membership. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said joining the two countries would significantly strengthen NATO’s northern and eastern flanks, noting their strong naval forces in the Baltic Sea and land forces familiar with the border region of Russia. She suggested that Putin’s efforts to divide and destroy NATO had failed. “He bet on our weakness,” she said. “Now he gets the opposite.” All 30 member countries must agree before the Western military alliance can admit Finland and Sweden.

— A Moscow court sentenced a member of the Russian city council who publicly criticized the war in Ukraine to seven years in prison for “knowingly false information” about the Russian military. Alexei Gorinov, 60, criticized Russia’s military actions in Ukraine during a meeting in March. A legal aid group said he was the first person sentenced to serve a prison sentence under a law prohibiting denigration of the Russian military. The Russian parliament approved the law, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, a week after the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine.

– The British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had advanced near the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson. The ministry’s daily intelligence briefing mentions the counteroffensive, as Ukrainian partisan activity also targets Russian forces in southern Ukraine. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said partisans blew up a railroad bridge about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Melitopol, east of Kherson, on Thursday to disrupt Russian resupply operations.


Murru reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters from across Europe contributed to this report.


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