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Evacuations as Russia advances in Ukraine's Donbas

By AFP - Jul 06,2022 - Last updated at Jul 06,2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin give a joint press conference following their talks in Kyiv on Wednesday, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (AFP photo)

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine — The evacuation of civilians from Sloviansk continued on Wednesday as Russian troops pressed towards the eastern Ukrainian city in their campaign to control the Donbas region, as Ireland's prime minister visited Kyiv to voice solidarity.

Sloviansk has been subjected to heavy bombardment in recent days as Russian forces push westwards on day 133 of the invasion.

"Twenty years of work; everything is lost. No more income, no more wealth," Yevgen Oleksandrovych, 66, told AFP as he surveyed the site of his car parts shop, destroyed in Tuesday's strikes.

AFP journalists saw rockets slam into Sloviansk's marketplace and surrounding streets, with firefighters scrambling to put out the resulting blazes.

Around a third of the market in Sloviansk appeared to have been destroyed, with locals coming to see what was left among the charred wreckage.

The remaining part of the market was functioning, with a trickle of shoppers coming out to buy fruit and vegetables.

Sloviansk 'well fortified' — mayor 

"I will sell it out and that's it, and we will stay home. We have basements, we will hide there. What we can do? We have nowhere to go, nobody needs us," said 72-year-old greengrocer Galyna Vasyliivna.

Mayor Vadym Lyakh said that around 23,000 people out of 110,000 were still in Sloviansk but claimed Russia had been unable to surround the city.

“Since the beginning of hostilities, 17 residents of the community have died, 67 have been injured,” he said.

“Evacuation is ongoing. We take people out every day.” Many of the evacuees were taken by bus to the city of Dnipro, further west.

“The city is well fortified. Russia does not manage to advance to the city,” the mayor said.

Vitaliy, a plumber, said his wife and their daughter, who is six months pregnant, were evacuated from Sloviansk on Wednesday.

“I am afraid for my wife,” he told AFP.

“Here, after what happened yesterday, they hit the city centre; need to leave.

“I sent my wife, and I have no more choice: Tomorrow I will join the army.”

Russians push west 

The eastern Donbas is mainly comprised of the Lugansk region, which Russian forces have almost entirely captured, and the Donetsk region to its southwest — the current focus of Moscow’s attack and the location of Sloviansk.

The fall of Lysychansk in Lugansk on Sunday, a week after the Ukrainian army also retreated from the neighbouring city of Severodonetsk, has freed up Russian troops to advance west on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk — Donetsk’s two largest cities still under Ukrainian control.

On Tuesday, they were first closing in on the smaller city of Siversk — which lies between Lysychansk and Sloviansk — after days of shelling there.

Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian forces killed five civilians and injured 21 in the region on Tuesday.

Lugansk Governor Sergiy Gayday insisted that Russia did not control the entire Lugansk region, saying: “Fighting still keeps going in two villages.”

Irish PM sees ‘evil’ 

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin was in Ukraine on Wednesday to voice Dublin’s solidarity and discuss how Ireland can support the country’s needs.

He visited Borodyanka and Butcha outside Kyiv, two towns that have become symbols of the alleged war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in this conflict.

“In the 21st century, to see such evil — very very difficult to comprehend. This war must stop,” he told Irish broadcaster RTE.

After talks later with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Martin said Moscow’s actions could not be allowed to stand.

“Russia’s brutal war against this beautiful democratic country is a gross violation of international law. It is an affront to everything that Ireland stands for,” he said.

Zelensky said Russia was not yet thinking about peace because “they don’t feel pressure of sanctions for the moment since some allies hesitate to activate sanctions”.

He is pressing Western allies for upgraded anti-missile systems.

“Our priority is sky security. We count on the arrival of powerful air defence systems. It will allow women and kids to get back home,” Zelensky said.


Russia toughens laws 


Ireland supports Ukraine’s push for membership of the European Union.

Two hit and captured Russian armoured vehicles went on display in Warsaw’s historic Castle Square, under the message that Ukrainians are not just defending freedom and democracy in their own country but for Europe as a whole.

The EU on Wednesday set out a harder focus on energy given Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We need to prepare for further disruptions of gas supply, even a complete cut-off from Russia,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

The EU has launched a 300 billion-euro ($310 billion) plan to wean itself off Russian fossil fuel supplies.

Russia’s parliament on Wednesday introduced harsh prison terms for calls to act against national security, and for maintaining “confidential” cooperation with foreigners and helping them to act against Russia’s interests.

Rights activists fear the new legislation will be used to snuff out any last vestiges of dissent.

Lawmakers also approved legislation to create a patriotic youth movement, in a move reminiscent of Soviet-era youth organisations.

Meanwhile former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev invoked the possibility of nuclear war if the International Criminal Court moves to punish Moscow for alleged crimes in Ukraine since the February 24 invasion.

“The idea to punish a country that has the largest nuclear arsenal is absurd,” said Medvedev, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.

“And potentially creates a threat to the existence of mankind.”

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