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Russia Takes Small Cities in Ukriane   05/28 08:59

   Russia asserted Saturday that its troops and separatist fighters had 
captured a key railway junction in eastern Ukraine, the second small city to 
fall to Moscow's forces this week as they fought to seize all of the country's 
contested Donbas region.

   KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia asserted Saturday that its troops and 
separatist fighters had captured a key railway junction in eastern Ukraine, the 
second small city to fall to Moscow's forces this week as they fought to seize 
all of the country's contested Donbas region.

   Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the city of Lyman 
had been "completely liberated" by a joint force of Russian soldiers and the 
Kremlin-backed separatists, who have waged war in the eastern region bordering 
Russia for eight years.

   Lyman, which had a population of about 20,000 before Russia invaded Ukraine 
on Feb. 24, serves as a regional railway hub. Ukraine's train system has 
ferried arms and evacuated citizens during the war, and it wasn't immediately 
clear how the development might affect either capability.

   Controlling the city would give the Russian military a foothold for 
advancing on larger Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two 
provinces that make up the Donbas. Since failing to occupy Kyiv, Ukraine's 
capital, Russia has concentrated on seizing the last parts of the region not 
controlled by the separatists.

   "If Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be 
seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to 
the Russian people as justifying the invasion," the British Ministry of Defense 
said in a Saturday assessment.

   Fighting continued Saturday around Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, 
twin cites that are last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk 
province. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated that the situation 
in the east was "difficult" but expressed confidence his country would prevail 
with help from Western weapons and sanctions.

   "If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they 
are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian," he said.

   On Tuesday, Russian troops took over Svitlodarsk, a small municipality south 
of Sievierodonetsk that hosts a thermal power station, while intensifying 
efforts to encircle and capture the larger city.

   The governor of Luhansk had warned that Ukrainian soldiers might have to 
retreat from Sievierodonetsk to avoid being surrounded, but he said Saturday 
that they had repelled an attack.

   "We managed to push back the Russians to their previous positions," Gov. 
Serhii Haidai said. "However, they do not abandon their attempts to encircle 
our troops and disrupt logistics in the Luhansk region."

   The advance of Russian forces raised fears that residents would experience 
the same horrors as people in the southeastern port city Mariupol in the weeks 
before it fell.

   Sievierodonetsk's mayor, Oleksandr Striuk, said Friday that some 1,500 
civilians have died there during the war, including from a lack of medicine or 
because of diseases that could not be treated while the city was under siege.

   Before the war, Sievierodonetsk was home to around 100,000 people. About 
12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, where 90% of the buildings are damaged, 
the mayor told The Associated Press.

   Just south of Sievierodonetsk, volunteers worked to evacuate people Friday 
amid a threatening soundtrack of air raid sirens and booming artillery. AP 
reporters saw elderly and ill civilians bundled into soft stretchers and slowly 
carried down apartment building stairs in Bakhmut, a city in northeast Donetsk 

   Svetlana Lvova, the manager of two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to convince 
reluctant residents to leave but said she and her husband would not evacuate 
until their son, who was in Sieverodonetsk, returned home.

   "I have to know he is alive. That's why I'm staying here," Lvova, 66, said.

   A nearly three-month siege of Mariupol ended last week when Russia claimed 
the city's complete. The city became a symbol of mass destruction and human 
suffering, as well as of Ukrainian determination to defend the country. More 
than 20,000 of its civilians are feared dead.

   Mariupol's port reportedly resumed operations after Russian forces finished 
clearing mines in the Azov Sea off the once-vibrant city. Russian state news 
agency Tass reported that a vessel bound for the southern Russian city of 
Rostov-on-Don entered Mariupol's seaport early Saturday.

   Meanwhile, the Ukrainian navy said Saturday morning that Russian ships 
"continue to block civilian navigation in the waters of the Black and Azov 
seas" along Ukraine's southern coast, "making them a zone of hostilities."

   The war in Ukraine has caused global food shortages because the country is a 
major exporter of grain and other commodities. Moscow and Kyiv have traded 
blame over which is responsible for keeping shipments tied up, with Russia 
saying Ukrainian sea mines prevented safe passage.

   The press service of the Ukrainian Naval Forces said in a Facebook post that 
two Russian missile carriers "capable of carrying up to 16 missiles" were ready 
for action in the Black Sea. It said that only shipping routes which had been 
established through multilateral treaties could be considered safe.

   Ukrainian officials pressed Western nations for more sophisticated and 
powerful weapons, especially multiple launch rocket systems. The U.S. Defense 
Department would not confirm a Friday CNN report saying the Biden 
administration was preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.

   Russia's U.S. ambassador on Saturday branded such a move as "unacceptable" 
called on the Biden administration to "abandon statements about the military 
victory of Ukraine."

   A Telegram post published on the Russian embassy's official channel cited 
Anatoliy Antonov, Moscow's top diplomat in Washington, as saying that "the 
unprecedented pumping of weapons into Ukraine significantly increases the risks 
of an escalation of the conflict."

   In Russia on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that 
raises the age limits for Russian army contracts. Contractors can now first 
enter service until age 50 and work until they reach legal retirement age, 
which is 65 for men and 60 for women.

   Previously, Russian law set an age limit of 40 for Russians and 30 for 
foreigners to sign an initial contract.

   Russia's Defense Ministry said the Russian navy successfully launched a new 
hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea. The ministry said the recently 
developed Zircon hypersonic cruise missile had struck its target about 1,000 
kilometers away.

   If confirmed, the launch could spell trouble for NATO voyages in the Arctic 
and North Atlantic. Zircon,, described as the world's fastest non-ballistic 
missile, can be armed with either a conventional or a nuclear warhead, and is 
said to be impossible to stop with current anti-missile defense systems.

   Moscow's claims, which could not be immediately verified, came a week after 
Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that Russia would form new military 
units in the west of the country in response to Sweden and Finland's bids to 
join NATO.

   Putin marked the annual Border Guards Day by congratulating the members of 
the Russian service.

   "The tasks you are facing are particularly important now, given the 
unprecedented political, economic and information pressure on our country and 
the buildup of NATO military capacity right at Russia's borders," Putin said.

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