Ukraine in control of Sievierodonetsk plant sheltering hundreds, governor says

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FILE PHOTO: Black smoke billows over Sievierodonetsk Azot chemical plant as Russia's invasion on Ukraine continues, in Sievierodonetsk

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine remains in control of the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk where hundreds of civilians are sheltering, the region's governor said on Saturday, after a Russia-backed separatist claimed 300 to 400 Ukrainian fighters were also trapped there.

"The information about the blockade of the Azot plant is a lie," Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists, said on the Telegram messaging app.

"Our forces are holding an industrial zone of Sievierodonetsk and are destroying the Russian army in the town," he wrote.

Sievierodonetsk, a small city in the region, has become the focus of Russia's advance in eastern Ukraine and one of the bloodiest flashpoints in a war now into its fourth month.

Ukraine has said some 800 people were hiding in several bomb shelters underneath the Azot plant, including about 200 employees and 600 residents of Sievierodonetsk.

Rodion Miroshnik, a Russian-backed representative of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, said late on Saturday that some civilians had started to leave.

"There are occasional exchanges of fire. ... They (the Ukrainian defenders) may still be holding several hundred civilians hostage," he said in an online post. Reuters was not immediately able to verify his account.

Miroshnik had earlier said 300 to 400 Ukrainian fighters were blockaded on the grounds of the plant along with civilians and had tried to negotiate their passage to Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk's twin city.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Jason Neely and Jonathan Oatis)

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