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Russia tightening grip on key city in eastern Ukraine

A military vehicle is seen destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia war in the town of Rubizhne in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 1, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russian forces are attempting to tighten their grip on a key industrial city in eastern Ukraine, as they continue to achieve significant territorial gains in the Donbass region.

Ukraine's armed forces said on Thursday that Russian forces were conducting assault operations in the country's eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, adding that they were also attacking in other parts of the east and northeast.

Severodonetsk is one of the several urban hubs that lie on Russia's path to capturing the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Luhansk in the Donbass.

After days of heavy fighting around Sievierodonetsk, Russian troops are inching forward through city streets. Ukraine says about 70% of the city is under Russian control, with Russian troops in the city center.

If Russia fully captures Sievierodonetsk and its smaller twin Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, it would hold all of Luhansk, one of two provinces in the Donbass that Moscow has vowed to "liberate."

Separately, Luhansk's regional governor, Sergiy Gaiday said civilians were sheltering from Russian attacks under a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk that he said was hit by an airstrike on Tuesday. 

"There are civilians there in bomb shelters, there are quite a few of them left," Gaidai said, adding that about 15,000 people remained in the city.

He further warned that Ukrainian troops in Sievierodonetsk could be forced to retreat to Lysychansk, which he said was easier to defend from its vantage on a hill.

The latest development comes as the US has announced a new $700-million weapons package for Ukraine that will include the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

Russia has slammed the US for sending more advanced rocket systems to Ukraine.

Besides the advanced rocket systems, the new weapons package, announced by US President Joe Biden, includes helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts, and more, according to reports.

The Ukrainians have reportedly assured US officials they will not fire rockets into Russian territory, according to senior administration officials.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the supply of the rocket launchers raised the risk of a "third country" being dragged into the conflict. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said the supplies would not encourage Ukraine's leadership to resume stalled peace talks.

Russia launched the military operations in Ukraine on February 24.

Western countries have responded to the Russian offensive by backing Ukraine with cash and heavy weaponry while imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russian officials and entities.

Kiev heavily relies on its Western allies for weapons. Moscow has repeatedly warned that Western support would indefinitely prolong the war.

Ukraine and Russia have held intermittent peace talks since late February. The negotiations, however, have failed to produce a breakthrough.

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