Severodonetsk on the verge of ‘humanitarian catastrophe,’ Ukrainian official warns

A Ukrainian regional official warned Friday of deteriorating living conditions in a city captured by Russian forces two weeks ago, saying Severodonetsk is without water, power or a working sewage system while bodies decompose in hot apartment buildings.

Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians were unleashing indiscriminate artillery barrages as they try to secure their gains in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province. Moscow this week claimed full control of Luhansk, but the governor and other officials said their Ukrainian troops retained a small part of the province.

“Luhansk hasn’t been fully captured even though the Russians have engaged all their arsenal to achieve that goal,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “Fierce battles are going on in several villages on the region’s border. The Russians are relying on tanks and artillery to advance, leaving scorched earth.”

Russia’s forces “strike every building that they think could be a fortified position,” he said. “They aren’t stopped by the fact that civilians are left there and they die in their homes and courtyards. They keep firing.”

People in Lysychansk, the twin city of Severodonetsk, across the Seversky-Donets River, collect water from a fire truck on June 21. Ukraine says Russian shelling has caused widespread destruction in both cities in Eastern Ukraine. (Anatoli Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Critical infrastructure destroyed, governor says

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

Haidai reported last week that about 8,000 residents in the city, which had a prewar population of around 100,000. Some Ukrainian officials and soldiers said Russian forces leveled Severodonetsk, Luhansk province’s administrative centre, before Ukraine’s 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 the Donbas, a region of mines and factories where pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukraine’s army for eight years and declared independent republics that Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized before he sent troops into Ukraine.

After asserting full control of Luhansk, Putin said Russian forces would have a chance to rest and recoup, but other parts of Eastern Ukraine have come under sustained bombardment. The Russian leader warned Kyiv it should quickly accept Moscow’s terms or brace for the worst.

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“Everybody should know that largely speaking, we haven’t even yet started anything in earnest,” Putin said while speaking with leaders of the Kremlin-controlled parliament Thursday.

Ukraine’s presidential office said Friday that at least 12 civilians were killed and another 30 wounded by Russian shelling over the last 24 hours. Two cities in Donetsk — the other Donbas province — experienced the heaviest barrage, with six people killed and 21 wounded.

In northeast Ukraine, another four people were killed and nine were wounded in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, where Russian shelling hit residential areas.

Commenting on Putin’s ominous statement, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader was reacting to statements by Ukraine’s government and its Western allies about defeating Russia on the battlefield.

“Russia’s potential is so big that just a small part of it has been used in the special military operation,” Peskov told reporters. “And so Western statements are utterly absurd and just add to the grief of the Ukrainian people.”

Elsewhere on the ground, Ukrainian forces made advances near the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson, the British Defense Ministry said

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The ministry’s daily intelligence briefing mentioned the counter-offensive as Ukrainian partisan activity also targets Russian forces in southern Ukraine.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said partisans blew up a railroad bridge some 25 kilometers north of Melitopol, which is to the east of Kherson, on Thursday to disrupt Russian resupply operations.

Moscow city councilor jailed

In a separate development, a court in Moscow on Friday sentenced a Russian municipal council member who had publicly criticized the war in Ukraine for seven years in prison after he was accused of spreading false information about the Russian military.

Alexei Gorinov, 60, criticized Russia’s military actions in Ukraine at a March meeting. A legal aid group said he is the first person ordered to serve prison time under a law that makes it illegal to fire the Russian military. Russia’s parliament rubber-stamped the law, which carries a maximum prison term of 15 years, a week after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine.

Alexei Gorinov, the municipal councilor of Moscow’s Krasnoselsky district, holds a sign reading ‘Do you still need this war?’ on Friday during sentencing for violating Article 207.3 of Russia’s criminal code. It was passed shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 to outlaw ‘deliberate dissemination of fake information’ about Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

During the sentencing hearing, Gorinov stood inside a glass cell holding a small poster that read: “Do you still need this war?”

Gorinov, a member of the Krasnoselsky district council, told a council meeting on March 15, where a children’s drawing contest was discussed, that Russia was waging a war of aggression against Ukraine.

“What kind of children’s drawing contest can we talk about for Children’s Day … when we have children dying every day?” he says in a recording of the meeting posted on YouTube.

He was arrested under Article 207.3 of the country’s criminal code, which outlaws “deliberate spread of fake information about Russia’s army,” defined as information deviating from official reports.

Germany backs 2 requests to join NATO

In Europe, Germany’s parliament overwhelmingly approved Sweden and Finland’s requests to join NATO.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said the two countries’ accession would greatly strengthen NATO’s northern and eastern flanks, noting their strong naval forces in the Baltic Sea and their land forces that know the region bordering Russia well.

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.

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