Fierce fighting as Russians advance in Donbas

STORY: Russian troops have entered the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk.

Luhansk Region’s Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday (May 30) that Russian forces are advancing in the city’s southeastern and northeastern fringes.

This Ukrainian soldier on patrol near the town of Bakhmut, southwest of Sievierodonetsk, spoke of a nagging fear that his government could be drawn into negotiating an end to the conflict.

Sievierodonetsk - a key part of Moscow’s offensive in Donbas - is enduring fierce fighting and incessant shelling.

But Ukrainian forces' refusal to withdraw has slowed the Russian offensive.

This was the soldier, a former English teacher who gave his name as Dymytro:

"You know now what I'm most afraid of, now that the fighting is so intense, so tough? That we would be told "That's it, stop it, we have a ceasefire. Such things happened already in our history and I'm afraid that this could happen now when the situation is very tough for the country, that we'd be told that we have a ceasefire and we negotiate. Negotiated settlement can only happen on Ukrainian terms and at present if it happened it would be horror, it would be the end of the president's career and of them all. Because people went to defend Ukraine not for Zelenskiy but for Ukraine, and if we are now told, "That's it, we have a ceasefire, we negotiate peace terms" it will be very bad and it would dishearten patriots... all those patriotic, maybe not all but the majority of them and they would become disillusioned."

Repeated strikes also hit Kharkiv and the surrounding region on Sunday (May 29), according to a Reuters journalist on the ground.

Ukraine’s second biggest city has been relatively quiet since Russian forces were pushed back this month.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy - who visited troops on the front lines in the northeastern Kharkiv region on Sunday - said in a televised speech Russia’s current key aim was taking Sievierodonetsk.

“In the aftermath of Russian strikes on Sievierodonetsk, all the town's critical infrastructure was destroyed. 90% of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of residential dwellings are completely destroyed. There are no telecommunications. The shelling is non-stop. To capture Sievierodonetsk is of primary importance to the occupation corps."

Having failed to take the capital Kyiv in the early phase of the war, Russia is seeking to consolidate its grip on the Donbas, large parts of which are already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

The Ukrainian government has urged the West to provide more longer-range weapons to turn the tide in the war, now in its fourth month.

European Union leaders meeting on Monday and Tuesday are trying to agree a new sanctions package against Russia, potentially including an oil embargo.

They've been unable to unify their stance in a month of talks.

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