KYIV/LVIV (Reuters) – Russian forces shelled Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and devastated several towns in eastern Ukraine, while the European Union prepared sanctions against the sales of Russian oil after Germany declared itself ready to support an embargo.
Russia launched a major offensive in eastern Ukraine focused on Donetsk and Luhansk after abandoning an assault on kyiv in late March. Parts of these provinces were already held by Russian-backed separatists before President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24.
Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska has called on the West to maintain its support.
“Ukraine needs arms so that Ukrainian refugees can return home and rebuild the economy. Therefore, we ask you not to stop, to increase the pace of the supply of heavy weapons,” she told British morning television.
The city of Kharkiv, in the north-east of the country, was bombarded, as it has been the case since the first days of the invasion, the Ukrainian army announced on Tuesday.
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Giving an initial battlefront update, the Ukrainian General Staff said its forces were defending the approach to Kharkiv from Izyum, a town on the Donets River, about 120 km (75 miles) south- east, as the enemy left a trail of destruction in Luhansk province.
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were trying to take the town of Rubizhne in Luhansk province in the front line and prepare an assault on nearby Sievierodonetsk.
The most violent clashes took place around Popasna, further south. The shelling was so intense that it was not possible to recover the bodies, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
“I don’t even want to talk about what’s happening with the residents of Popasna, Rubizhne and Novotoshkivske right now. These towns just don’t exist anymore. They completely destroyed them.”
Russian troops are now trying to surround a large Ukrainian force there, attacking from three directions with heavy shelling along the front.
At least three civilians were killed Tuesday in the Russian bombardment of the town of Vuhledar, in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, the office of the Ukrainian president said.
Some other areas of Donetsk were under constant fire and regional authorities were trying to evacuate civilians from frontline areas, he added.
Reuters could not independently verify the Ukraine battlefield accounts.
EU READY TO AVOID RUSSIAN OIL
In Brussels, the European Commission is expected to propose a sixth package of EU sanctions against Russia this week, including a possible embargo on the purchase of Russian oil.
kyiv says Russia’s energy exports to Europe, so far largely free of international sanctions, are funding the Kremlin’s war effort with millions of euros every day.
“This package should include clear measures to block Russia’s revenue from energy resources,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Germany said on Monday it was ready to support an immediate EU embargo on Russian oil.
“We have managed to reach a situation where Germany is able to withstand an oil embargo,” said German Economy Minister Robert Habeck.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been more cautious than other Western leaders in his support for Ukraine, is under increasing pressure to take a tougher line.
Scholz promised that the sanctions would not be lifted until Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a peace deal with Ukraine that Kyiv can support, he said in an interview with state television ZDF.
Ambassadors from EU countries will discuss the proposed oil sanctions when they meet on Wednesday.
The first civilians to be evacuated from a giant steel plant in Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday after an overnight bus trip across the front line.
Ukraine says hundreds of civilians were trapped inside the Azovstal plant along with the city’s last remaining Ukrainian defenders.
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, 39, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, told Reuters from inside the factory that fighters could hear the voices of women, children and the elderly trapped underground and lacked equipment to dig them up.
“We planned to demolish the bunkers, the entrance to which is blocked, but all Monday night the naval artillery and cannon artillery fired. All day today the aviation worked, dropping bombs,” Palamar told Zoom.
Pope Francis said in an interview published Tuesday that he requested a meeting in Moscow with Putin to try to stop the war in Ukraine but received no response.
The pope also told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church, who supported the war “cannot become Putin’s altar boy”.
The pope told the newspaper that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told him Russia planned to end the war on May 9, which Russia celebrates as ‘Victory Day’ marking the surrender of Nazi Germany. in 1945.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that Moscow would not rush to end its “special military operation” in Ukraine to meet the symbolic date.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
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