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Russia promises Sievierodonetsk corridor

Russia says it plans to set up an escape corridor for civilians who are trapped in the Azot chemical plant in embattled Sievierodonetsk as Ukrainian defenders attempted to hold out against the Russian forces.

Russia’s defence ministry said the humanitarian corridor, allowing citizens to travel north towards Svatove, is to be open on Wednesday from 8am to 8pm.

Svatove is in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, controlled by pro-Russian separatists and recognised as a state by Russia.

Russia refused to allow those trapped – up to 560 people – to flee to Lysychansk, under Ukrainian control, as Ukraine proposed. 

Russian defence ministry spokesman Mikhail Mizintsev claimed the approach would only serve Ukrainian fighters as in Mariupol.

“Safe evacuation of all peaceful citizens is guaranteed – without exception,” Mizintsev said. 

He called on the Ukrainian fighters to lay down their weapons and surrender, promising their lives would then be spared.

“Russian troops are trying to storm the city but the military is holding firm, Sievierodonetsk’s Ukrainian mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said.

He described the situation as “very difficult”.

Although the last bridge over the Siverskyi Donets river had been felled, civilians were still being allowed to leave Sievierodonetsk “every minute when there is a lull and there is a possibility of transportation,” Stryuk said.

“Every possible chance is taken.”

Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped inside Azot, a chemical factory where its forces have resisted weeks of Russian bombardment and assaults that have reduced much of the city to ruins.

Regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said: “The shelling is so powerful that people can no longer stand it in the shelters, their psychological state is on the edge. The last few days, the residents are finally ready to go.”

Both sides claim to have inflicted huge casualties in the fighting over the city, Russia’s main target in its battle for the east of the country.

Ukraine still holds Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city on higher ground on the western bank of the river. 

But with all the bridges now cut, its forces acknowledge a threat that they could be encircled in Sievierodonetsk.

Damien Megrou, spokesman for a unit of foreign volunteers helping to defend Sievierodonetsk, said there was a risk of leaving “a large pocket of Ukrainian defenders cut off from the rest of the Ukrainian troops” – as in Mariupol, the Black Sea port that surrendered last month after months of Russian siege.

The battle for Sievierodonetsk – a city of barely more than 100,000 people before the war – is now the biggest fight in Ukraine as the conflict has shifted into a war of attrition.

Ukraine has said it is losing 100-200 soldiers each day, with hundreds more wounded.

Momentum in Sievierodonetsk has shifted several times over the past few weeks – with Russia concentrating its overwhelming artillery firepower on urban districts to obliterate resistance, then sending in ground troops vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Bigger battles could lie ahead for the wider Ukrainian-held pocket of the Donbas region, nearly all on the opposite bank of the river which Russian forces have found difficult to cross. 

Ukraine says Russia is massing to assault Sloviansk from the north and along a front near Bakhmut to the south.

Beyond the Donbas, Ukrainian officials hope that Russia’s focus on capturing the east will drain its forces from other areas and pave the way for counter-attacks to recapture other territory.

with reporting from Reuters

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Place of originRussia promises Sievierodonetsk corridor

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