Ukrainian tanks and military vehicles heading toward the village of Toshkivka on Sunday.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York TimesRussian forces’ seizure of several more villages in eastern Ukraine has further imperiled soldiers defending two key cities as Moscow seeks to complete its conquest of Ukraine’s Luhansk Province.
The province’s governor, Serhiy Haidai, on Wednesday described Russia’s “creeping tactics” as he confirmed the capture of three villages set in agricultural land south of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the last major cities in Luhansk not to fall into Russian hands.
“Russian forces are getting closer to Lysychansk,” Mr. Haidai warned on Telegram, the messaging app.
The capture of the villages — Mirna Dolina, Podlisne and Toshkivka — would give Russian artillery, which has been relentlessly pounding Sievierodonetsk, a closer southern position from which shorter-range weapons can strike Lysychansk. It would also make it harder for Ukrainian forces to gain access to a highway that runs southwest from Lysychansk and is the main supply line and evacuation route for Ukrainian forces and civilians in the city, which has been mostly emptied of its prewar population of about 100,000.
That enhances the possibility that the Ukrainian fighters defending Lysychansk could be encircled and cut off, which would make resupply and evacuation virtually impossible. Ukrainian fighters in the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov were encircled for weeks before the city fell in early May, forcing many hundreds to surrender to Russian troops.
The battle around Sievierodonetsk, which has raged for weeks, grew even more dire for the Ukrainians on Sunday, when Russian ground troops broke through a key defensive position at Toshkivka, prompting Ukrainian forces to rush reinforcements to the area.
Mr. Haidai said on the Telegram social media app on Wednesday that Lysychansk remained “completely under the control” of Ukrainian forces. But in Sievierodonetsk, which lies to the east across the Siversky Donets River, Ukraine holds only a chemical plant where civilians are also reported to be sheltering, Mr. Haidai said on Monday.
If Russian forces claim all of Luhansk, they could turn their attention to Donetsk Province to the west. The two provinces together form the industrial Donbas region, whose capture has become a key objective of President Vladimir V. Putin after his troops failed to seize Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, in the weeks after invading Ukraine in February.
But analysts say that Russia faces an even more difficult battle to seize more of Donetsk, given that its forces have suffered heavy casualties and been met with strong Ukrainian resistance.
A British military intelligence report on Wednesday said that Moscow-backed separatist forces in Donetsk had reported the killing of more than 2,000 of its personnel this year and the wounding of almost 9,000. Those figures amounted to 55 percent of its original force, the British assessment said, which “highlights the extraordinary attrition Russian and pro-Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas.”
Ukrainian forces have also taken heavy casualties and are relying more frequently on undertrained units to hold parts of the eastern front line.
For both Russia and Ukraine, “the ability to generate and deploy reserve units to the front is likely becoming increasingly critical to the outcome of the war.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in an overnight address that his country’s army, with the help of “tactical moves,” was strengthening its defense in Luhansk, a possible reference to the arrival of longer-range artillery supplied by the United States and some European governments. But he acknowledged that Luhansk was “really the toughest area right now.”
Ukrainian weapons hit Snake Island, off the coast of Odesa, as well as a former natural gas rig where Russian forces had placed radio-jamming equipment, a former top defense official said.Credit…Maxar Technologies/Via ReutersKYIV, Ukraine — As Ukrainian forces launch a renewed assault on Snake Island in the Black Sea, recent strikes suggest that they are using powerful Western anti-ship weapons in an effort to undermine Russian naval domination.
The Ukrainian military’s southern command said late on Tuesday that it was using “various forces and methods of destruction” to attack Russian infrastructure on Snake Island, a speck of land south of Odesa that is critical to efforts to control the Black Sea. On Wednesday morning, the military said it had destroyed a Russian air defense system, radar installation and vehicles on the island.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had thwarted the attack, which it said had featured 15 drones and long-range missiles, and was intended to land Ukrainian soldiers on the island. “The unsuccessful fire attack forced the enemy to abandon the landing to Snake Island,” the Russian military said.
The Russians said that “after being convinced that the attempt to seize the island had failed,” the Ukrainians had used long-range anti-ship missiles and drones to attack Russian gas infrastructure facilities in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.
The details of the battle offered by the two sides could not immediately be verified. But Ukrainian officials defended the targeting of Russian offshore drilling infrastructure, saying that Moscow was converting its drilling platforms to military installations by installing high-tech surveillance and communications systems on the rigs.
The current round of fighting around Snake Island appeared to kick off on Friday, when the Ukrainians struck a Russian naval tugboat as it was on a mission to deliver weapons and personnel to the island.
On Tuesday, the British military’s intelligence agency said that Ukraine had “almost certainly” used newly delivered Harpoon missiles in the attack — their first demonstrated use. Ukrainian coastal defense capabilities have now “largely neutralized” Russia’s ability to project maritime force in the northwestern Black Sea, the British analysis said.
A photo distributed on Monday by Ukrainian forces showed a fire burning at a food warehouse in Odesa.Credit…Ukraine Forces Of Southern Ukraine/Via ReutersAndriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister, said that Ukrainian weapons had hit a former natural-gas rig on Monday where Russian forces had placed radio-jamming equipment, blocking Ukraine from getting an accurate picture of the area. Mr. Zagorodnyuk said the strikes might be an indication that important naval weapons Ukraine has been seeking from its Western allies had arrived.
The Russians said that the Ukrainian attack on the drilling rig had resulted in an intensive fire and could lead to “an environmental disaster.”
The strikes at sea come amid an intensification of bombardment across southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian military has reported more than two dozen Russian missile attacks in recent days. Serhii Bratchuk, the spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration, said a Russian missile barrage on Odesa on Monday had struck targets including a food warehouse and a cemetery.
As both sides duel in the Black Sea, the world is wrestling with a global food crisis caused by a Russian naval blockade that is keeping Ukrainian ships from leaving port with millions of tons of grain.
Snake Island — which covers just 46 acres of rocks and grass — is vital to both the Ukrainians and the Russians. If the Russians have control of the island 180 miles off the coast of Odesa, they can control shipping lanes in the northwestern corner of the Black Sea.
After a series of attacks in May by Ukrainian forces in and around Snake Island, Russia has reinforced its outpost there with multiple surface-to-air rocket systems, according to satellite imagery and Ukrainian officials.
Mr. Bratchuk said the Russians were trying to turn the garrison on the island into “something that could be the analogue of the warship Moskva.” The Ukrainians sank the Moskva, the flagship on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, in April. Although at that time Ukraine had a handful of domestically made anti-ship missiles, called Neptunes, powerful Harpoon systems appear now to be arriving in the country from the West.
Mourners prayed and sang during Artemiy Dymyd’s funeral at the Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Mr. Dymyd was killed in battle while serving in a special operation unit of the Ukrainian marines.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York TimesImage
Mr. Dymyd’s coffin was carried from Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church through the streets of Lviv’s main market square, and then to the cemetery. Such funeral processions have become commonplace in the western Ukrainian city.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York TimesImage
Mr. Dymyd’s funeral was one of four military funerals to take place in Lviv on Tuesday. Three of the four soldiers buried did not live to 30 years of age, including 27-year-old Mr. Dymyd.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York TimesLVIV, Ukraine — Artemiy Dymyd’s closest friends unwrapped his parachute and spread it gently over his grave. The red, silky material swaddled his coffin as it was lowered down.
The men, many soldiers themselves, covered the freshly dug hole with dirt. The first shovelfuls landed with a thud.
The funeral for Mr. Dymyd, a marine killed in action, was the first funeral of the day in Lviv, a western city in Ukraine where residents have seen a relentless stream of their sons killed in the war with Russia. By Tuesday’s end, three other freshly dug graves near Mr. Dymyd’s would also be filled with young soldiers who had died in battle for the country’s east, hundreds of miles away.
The funeral had begun in a Greek Catholic church, an eastern branch of Catholicism that is widespread in Lviv. Mr. Dymyd’s father, a priest, delivered his eulogy. And then his mother, her voice thick with emotion, sang a final lullaby for her son.
The procession then made an all-too-familiar journey from the church to the city’s main market square, where dozens of young people in scouting uniforms formed a honor guard. Mr. Dymyd, 27, had been a part of Ukraine’s scout organization since the age of 7. Young children, teenagers and adults from the group were there to say a final goodbye.
At the bottom of the square, four white placards announced the details of the military funerals to be held in the city on Tuesday, all for men killed in the battle for the country’s east in recent weeks. Three of them never reached their 30th birthday.
Passengers of a tram in downtown Lviv, Ukraine, watched in silence as the funeral procession of Artemiy Dymyd passed by on its way to Lychakiv cemetery.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York TimesOne young woman, wearing the distinctive green scarf of the scouts, closed her eyes, drew sharp breaths and clenched her fists to keep her tears at bay as she joined the slow procession for Mr. Dymyd.
Scouting was just one part of his life. Mr. Dymyd also loved traveling and adventure, and extreme sports like parachuting. His nickname was Kurka, which means chicken. Friends said that Metallica music would have been more fitting for his funeral than the military dirges that now play in Lviv’s Lychakiv cemetery daily.
“He is one of the most decent men I’ve ever met,” said Dmytro Paschuk, 26. “He lived many lives in his 27 years. People write books about characters like him, and maybe there will be books soon.”
Mr. Paschuk, who ran a wine bar before the war, served alongside Mr. Dymyd in a special operation unit of the Ukrainian marines. They had become like brothers in the last few months, he said.
On the night of the attack that ended his friend’s life, Mr. Paschuk said, he woke to the sound of an explosion and soon knew that something was wrong. He immediately looked for Mr. Dymyd and saw that another friend was giving him first aid. When he saw Mr. Dymyd’s eyes, he knew it was bad.
“I was scared to be beside him,” he said slowly. “Because when I saw him I felt that he wouldn’t make it.”
Mr. Dymyd died a short time later.
Mr. Paschuk said he had mixed feelings about returning to the front lines in a few days. He described waves of emotions, but he said he was not angry or vengeful.
“I don’t have the feeling I want to kill everyone because this happened,” Mr. Paschuk said. “Thanks to Kurka. He taught me to remain calm.”
Roman Lozynskyi, a fellow marine, had been a friend of Mr. Dymyd for two decades, having met him when they were young scouts. Mr. Lozynskyi, who is a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, volunteered for the military three months ago and served in the same unit as Mr. Dymyd and Mr. Paschuk.
He described his lifelong friend as a “crazy man” with a lust for life who had raced back to Ukraine from a parachuting trip in Brazil to enlist when the war began. Mr. Dymyd wanted to continue parachuting during the war and finally had a chance last month as part of a mission, his friends said.
It was Mr. Dymyd’s brother, Dmytro Dymyd, who thought of placing the parachute in his grave, Mr. Lozynskyi said, in a nod to Mr. Dymyd’s passion for the sport of parachuting. The brother, who is also a soldier, was given permission to attend the funeral but would return to the Donetsk region in a few days.
As the mourners slowly made their way from the cemetery, the grave diggers tamped down the earth on Mr. Dymyd’s grave to a sturdy mound.
There were still three more to go.
Young men and women wearing Scout uniforms mourned Mr. Dymyd, who had been a part of Ukraine’s scout organization since the age of 7.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York TimesImage
A storage facility for grain in Boryspil, Ukraine. World leaders are working to find new solutions for exporting Ukraine’s agricultural products.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York TimesRussia’s blockade of the Black Sea has inflated global grain prices, raised fears of hunger in some countries and drawn widespread condemnation. It has also provoked a vexing problem: how to find a new route out for Ukraine’s agricultural exports.
Rather than using Ukraine’s ports to export its wheat, sunflower oil, corn and other produce, proposed alternatives have included either exporting it across Ukraine’s western borders into Poland or transporting it southwest into Romania, across the Danube River and out through the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta.
Western leaders have lined up in recent weeks to offer support for these solutions. President Biden said last week the United States was working with Europe to build grain storage capacity in Poland. The European Union’s foreign policy chief called the blockade a war crime. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Sunday called for a “long-term effort to develop the alternative overland routes that already exist.”
But analysts say that while moves to improve alternative routes can increase exports somewhat, they are not sufficient to meet global food demand. They also say that the relentless crop cycle will not wait.
“There’s been a mad rush to find alternatives” for Ukraine’s grain exports, said Mike Lee, a specialist in Black Sea agricultural projects at Green Square Agro Consulting in Britain. “But the only real viable route to exporting grain out is through the Black Sea ports, and there’s no alternative to get to the quantities that need to be shifted.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has acknowledged the limitations of the alternatives being considered. He said in a speech on Monday that only “much smaller volume can be supplied via new routes” and that “this results in a much more expensive supply.”
Exports slowed during the pandemic as the global economy contracted, but Ukraine typically ships about 50 million to 60 million tons of agricultural products per year. In May, after Russia’s invasion began, its export figure plummeted, according to figures from Strategie Grains, which is part of Tallage, a French research firm.
In other terms, Ukraine provided about 15 percent of global wheat exports in 2019 before the pandemic. But Andrée Defois, deputy chief operating officer of Strategie Grain, said the figure could now fall to around 6 percent unless there is “a miracle.”
The European Union in May presented a plan to secure alternative routes, and Hungary’s foreign minister on Monday offered his country’s territory as a possible platform for exports.
Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister, Markian Dmytrasevych, last week made specific requests in a speech to the European Union, including measures to improve the port at Constanta and to speed up shipments across the Danube.
Experts say, however, that the obstacles are legion: Ukraine’s railway system runs on a different gauge from those of most other countries in the European Union. It will take time to build storage capacity. There are too few ferries on the Danube River to transport the produce. And Constanta is too small to handle the volume of crops from Ukraine.
In addition, securing the private investment for the infrastructure that would be necessary for such alternatives is difficult, in part because it is unclear how long the blockade will last, Mr. Lee said.
An agreement under which Russia would unblock the sea route could resolve the problem. But talks led by Turkey with the hope of achieving such an arrangement have not yielded tangible results, and fighting in the Black Sea is continuing.
A destroyed building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.Credit…Orlando Barria/EPA, via ShutterstockWhile fierce battles continue for the Donbas region in Ukraine’s east amid warnings of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south, Russian shelling in and around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the northeast of the country, has grown more intense in recent days.
Fifteen civilians were killed and 16 were wounded in Kharkiv during daytime shelling, Oleg Sinegubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said on Tuesday. Russian forces were firing “en masse on residential areas in Kharkiv,” he said on Telegram.
“The occupiers are deliberately beating residential areas where there are no military facilities,” he said. “This is real terrorism against civilians.”
The civilian death toll included an 8-year-old girl from the village of Bezruky. In the Kharkiv region alone, 43 children have been killed by Russian forces and 130 have been injured, according to Mr. Sinegubov’s post. Kharkiv’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said this week that shelling had grown worse in the city, which was being hit “night, morning, day.”
In his nightly address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine referred to the shelling. “It simply destroys, simply kills,” he said, adding that, “the Russian army is deaf to any rationality.”
Last month, Ukrainian troops appeared to have pushed Russian forces back from the city, even as far as the border, about 25 miles away. But Russia does not appear to have given up on its efforts around the city, using railway lines around Kharkiv to supply troops that appear to be preparing for an assault on the city of Sloviansk, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a research group based in Washington.
Russian forces may also be trying to keep their opponents occupied and spread out along the vast front line, reducing Ukraine’s ability to concentrate on the fight for Sievierodonetsk, a focal point of the eastern front, or on the counteroffensive in the southern Kherson region.
The Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine have led to the replacement of its commander of airborne forces, Andrey Serdyukov, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which cited the Russian news media. In its latest assessment, the institute said Moscow might be “in the process of radically reshuffling the command structure of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, indicating a possible purge of senior officers blamed for failures in Ukraine.”
In eastern Luhansk, the number of civilians injured and killed by overnight Russian shelling is yet to be determined, Serhiy Haidai, the region’s military governor, said on Facebook. “The shelling lasted through the night and all of yesterday,” he said. “More than 10 multistory buildings, private houses and the police department building were destroyed.”
Last week, Amnesty International issued a report accusing Russian forces of launching “a relentless campaign of indiscriminate bombardments against Kharkiv.” In May, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration estimated that 23 percent of the more than eight million Ukrainians who have fled to other parts of the country were from the Kharkiv region.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday confirmed the death of a man believed to be the second American killed fighting in Ukraine.
The department identified the man, Stephen Zabielski, as a U.S. national who died in Ukraine but gave no further details. An obituary in the Recorder News in Montgomery County, N.Y., said Mr. Zabielski was a 52-year-old Florida resident and had died fighting in Ukraine in mid-May.
Mr. Zabielski’s death would mark the second American killed in combat in the war after Willy Joseph Cancel Jr., 22, a former Marine infantryman and a resident of Kentucky whose family said he was killed in late April fighting alongside the Ukrainian military.
The confirmation of Mr. Zabielski’s death also comes after a Kremlin spokesman said this week that two American fighters who had gone missing in Ukraine had been taken into custody. Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were U.S. military veterans who had volunteered to fight in Ukraine.
A third American volunteer fighter may also be missing in action, the State Department said last week.
“We once again should take this opportunity to reiterate to Americans the inherent dangers of traveling to Ukraine,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. “We understand certainly that there are Americans across this country — millions of Americans across this country — who feel motivated to support the righteous and the noble cause of the Ukrainian people.”
Mr. Zabielski’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.
Thousands of largely unregulated volunteer foreign fighters have flocked to Ukraine, only some of whom have been accepted into the Ukrainian Army’s International Legion.
Maham Javaid contributed reporting.
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