Russia tells Ukraine to lay down arms in Sievierodonetsk
Russia told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant in embattled Sievierodonetsk to lay down their arms by early Wednesday as it fights to maintain momentum in its battle for control of eastern Ukraine. Ukraine is calling for an increase in Western heavy weapons after Russia committed the bulk of its firepower to the eastern Donbas region, a topic expected to feature prominently at a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday in Brussels.
Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped alongside soldiers inside Azot, a chemical factory where its forces have resisted weeks of Russian bombardment and assaults that have reduced much of Sievierodonetsk to ruins.
Fighters should “stop their senseless resistance and lay down arms” from 8 am Moscow time (0500 GMT), ?Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia`s National Defense Management Center told the Interfax news agency.
Civilians would be let out through a humanitarian corridor, Mizintsev said.
The Azot bombardment echoes earlier battles over the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians took shelter from Russian shelling. Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken into Russian custody.
Shelling on Azot was so strong that “people can no longer stand it in the shelters, their psychological state is on edge,” said regional governor Serhiy Gaidai of Luhansk, one of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.
The battle for Luhansk`s Sievierodonetsk – a city of barely more than 100,000 people before the war – is now the biggest fight in Ukraine as the conflict has become a war of attrition.
Ukraine is still trying to evacuate civilians after Russian forces destroyed the last bridge to the city. Ground has changed hands several times over the past few weeks, and Ukrainian officials have given little indication they will back down.
“We have to hold strong … The more losses the enemy suffers, (the) less strength it will have to pursue its aggression,” Zelenskiy said in an address late Tuesday.