President Volodymyr Zelenskiy insisted on Saturday that Ukraine would prevail in its almost four-month-long war with Russia that has become focused on a grinding artillery slugging match over an eastern Ukrainian city.
Russian forces have been trying to seize Sievierodonetsk in an eastern advance, turning it into one of the bloodiest battles of the conflict. Neither side has secured a knock-out blow in fighting that has pounded swathes of the city into rubble.
Ukraine has appealed for swifter deliveries of heavy weapons from the West to turn the tide of the war with Russian forces – which it says have at least 10 times more artillery pieces than Ukrainian forces. Yet, even when outgunned, Ukraine’s army has proved more resilient than expected in early phases of fighting.
“We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” Zelenskiy told a conference in Singapore by videolink. “It is on the battlefields in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are being decided.”
The conflict between the neighbours – two of the world’s biggest grain exporters – has reverberated well beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” global food prices have shot up. The United Nations said on Friday that as many as 19 million more people around the world could face chronic hunger in the next year because of the reduced exports of wheat and other food commodities.
Global energy prices have also surged as the West has ratcheted up sanctions on Russia, a top oil and gas exporter.
“If due to Russian blockades, we are unable to export our foodstuffs, which is so sorely missing in global markets, the world will face an acute and severe food crisis and famine – famine in many countries of Asia and Africa,” Zelenskiy said.
Turkey has tried to secure a deal so Ukraine can resume shipments from its Black Sea ports, which accounted for 98% of its cereal and oilseed exports before the war. But Moscow says Kyiv must clear the ports of mines and Ukraine says it needs security guarantees to ensure this will not leave it exposed.
On the battlefield, Britain’s defence ministry said on Saturday that Russian forces around Ukraine’s Sievierodonetsk had not made advances into the south of the city as of Friday.
GRINDING ADVANCES, SLOW RETREATS
“Intense street to street fighting is ongoing and both sides are likely suffering high numbers of casualties,” the ministry said in an intelligence update posted on Twitter.
Sievierodonestsk lies in Ukraine’s eastern province of Luhansk, over which Russia wants complete control. It has demanded Ukraine cede it to separatists along with neighbouring Donetsk. The two provinces make up the Donbas region, where Moscow has backed a revolt by separatist proxies since 2014.
Ukrainian troops have largely pulled out of residential areas of Sievierodonestsk but have not yielded a foothold on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River, while Russian forces are pushing from the north and south to encircle the Ukrainians.
Ukraine’s Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russians were in control of most of the city, after days of grinding advances and slow retreats by both sides in a conflict that one Ukrainian military official said had become “an artillery war now”.
Germany, which has promised heavy weapons to Ukraine but which has been criticised for being slow to supply them, plans to revise its rules on arms exports to make it easier to arm democracies like Ukraine, Der Spiegel said on Friday.
Elsewhere in the conflict, the mayor of Mariupol, a southern Ukrainian city reduced to ruins by weeks of bombardment before Russian forces took control of it last month, said sanitation systems were broken and corpses were rotting in the streets.
The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Telegram at least 287 children had died in the war so far, after it said it had learned about the deaths of 24 more children in Mariupol.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians, but both sides say they have inflicted mass casualties on each other’s forces.
Reuters has not been able to independently verify the battlefield reports in the conflict.
Russia has said it aims to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour, while Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.