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Russian forces have taken control of most of the key Donbass city of Syevyerodonetsk amid fierce house-to-house fighting as Kyiv awaits the delivery of crucial advanced US and German weaponry which Moscow said would “pour gas on the fire” in the war in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces hold just 20% of Syevyerodonetsk, with the Russians controlling more than 60%, while the rest has become “no man’s land”, Oleksandr Stryuk, the Ukrainian head of the city’s administration, said on June 1. .

Stryuk, who declined to give his location, said Ukrainians fighting pitched battles in the city still hoped they could prevent Russia from taking full control.

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“The 20% is fiercely defended by our armed forces,” Stryuk said. “

“We are hopeful that despite everything, we will liberate the city and not allow it to be completely occupied,” he said, adding that 12,000 to 13,000 people were stuck in the city without food or water. .

“Part of the Ukrainian troops” have now “withdrawn to more advantageous and prepared positions in advance,” said Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Lugansk regional military administration, while other troops continue “ to fight inside the city”.

Oleksander Motuzianyk, spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said there was fighting in the streets of Syevyerodonetsk and the Russians had reached the city center.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces are actively resisting them,” he said.

If the Russians take control of Syevyerodonetsk, they will install artillery and mortars and increase their bombardment of Lysychansk,” he said on June 1 on Telegram.

President Volodymyr Zelensky again described the situation in the east as “very difficult”, telling the US media group Newsmax in an interview broadcast on June 1 that Ukraine is losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day and around 500 are wounded in battle.

The UK Ministry of Defense said earlier in its Daily Intelligence Update on Twitter on June 1 that according to his estimates, “more than half of the city is probably now occupied by Russian forces, including Chechen fighters”.

The British intelligence report said that outside Donbass, “Russia continues to carry out long-range missile strikes against infrastructure across Ukraine.”

Five people were injured on June 1 in the western city of Lviv in a cruise missile strike, said a city official. Russian troops attacked a railway tunnel in a bid to cut off supplies of fuel and weapons to allies, the official said. But there was no confirmation of damage to the infrastructure.

In Lyman, 60 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk, “fighting continues”, the Ukrainian army said, despite earlier reports that the town, an important railway junction, had fallen to the Russians.

Further south, in Bakhmut, Russia is “trying to oust units of our troops from their positions”, the army said.

The United States, meanwhile, has agreed to provide longer-range rocket systems to boost outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian forces.

On June 1, US President Joe Biden officially announced that High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) are included in a new $700 million weapons package for Ukraine. Biden had said in a May 31 New York Times essay that the guns would be sent.

“The United States will stand with our Ukrainian partners and continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and equipment to defend itself,” Biden said in a statement. statement.

“This new package will arm them with new capabilities and advanced weapons, including HIMARS with battlefield munitions, to defend their territory against Russian advances,” he said.

Biden announced his intention to give Ukraine HIMARS after receiving assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to strike targets inside Russian territory, a condition imposed by Washington to avoid escalating the war.

“The Ukrainians have assured us that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. said during an appearance in Washington with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Blinken also said the current US assessment is that there will still be “many months” of conflict.

“It could be over tomorrow if Russia chooses to end the aggression. We don’t see any signs of that at the moment,” he said.

The announced shipment of high-tech weapons will also include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, according to unnamed officials.

Although the HIMARS system stops before the long-range rockets repeatedly requested by Kyiv – the M270 MLRS and the M142 which have a range of up to 300 kilometers – the news of the American decision has angered Moscow. .

“We believe the United States is deliberately and diligently adding fuel to the fire,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a regular June 1 conference call.

Peskov added that the Kremlin did not trust Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s assurances that Kyiv would not use the new weapons to attack Russian territory.

Blinken dismissed the suggestion that the United States risked escalation. “It is Russia attacking Ukraine, not the other way around,” he said.

Following the US announcement, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged on June 1 to send high-tech anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine amid opposition criticism that Berlin has failed to provide enough military aid in the fight against the unprovoked invasion of Russia.

Addressing lawmakers in Berlin on June 1, Scholz said the government had approved a proposal to ship IRIS-T missiles and radar systems to Kyiv as Russia continues to hammer targets in the east of the country. ‘Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis warned on June 1 that food cannot become a weapon in the war Russia has launched against Ukraine.

The 85-year-old pontiff told a regular audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican that a blockade of grain exports from Ukraine, on which millions of people, especially in poorer countries, depend “cause serious concern”.

“Please don’t use grain, a staple food, as a weapon of war!” he said, adding that everything must be done to solve the problem and guarantee people’s basic right to basic food.

On June 1, the Kremlin again said that sanctions imposed on Russia by the West and measures taken by Ukraine were at the root of the potential food crisis.

With reporting from Reuters, BBC, CNN, The New York Times, AP and AFP