Zelensky defiant as Russia claims Severodonetsk gains

Russia claimed Tuesday residential areas had been "fully liberated" but that Ukrainian forces still hold the industrial zone and surrounding settlements.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) visiting the frontline positions of the Ukrainian military during a working trip to the Zaporizhzhia region. Picture: Handout / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

KYIV - Russia claimed its forces have taken full control of residential neighbourhoods in eastern Ukraine's Severodonetsk, as President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed the "heroic defence" of the Donbas region will persist against the odds.

The strategic city is currently the focus of Russia's offensive after their forces were repelled from other parts of Ukraine following the February invasion.

Intense street fighting has raged for days, with the situation on the ground changing rapidly.

Russia claimed Tuesday residential areas had been "fully liberated" but that Ukrainian forces still hold the industrial zone and surrounding settlements.

Ukrainian officials later countered that the Russians weren't in control of the city, and Zelensky struck a defiant tone in his daily video address late Tuesday.

"The absolutely heroic defence of Donbas continues," he said.

"The occupiers did not believe that the resistance of our military would be so strong."

The cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are separated by a river, are the last areas still under Ukrainian control in the Lugansk, which together with Donetsk forms the Donbas region.

After being repelled from Kyiv, Russia is seeking to capture a vast swathe of eastern Ukraine.

The war's impact continued to reverberate, with the World Bank cutting its global growth estimate to 2.9% - 1.2 percentage points below the January forecast - due largely to the invasion of Ukraine.

The toxic combination of weak growth and rising prices could trigger widespread suffering in dozens of poorer countries still struggling to recover from the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank said.

"The risk from stagflation is considerable with potentially destabilising consequences for low and middle income economies," World Bank President David Malpass told reporters.

"For many countries recession will be hard to avoid," Malpass said.

The bank additionally announced $1.5 billion more in aid for Ukraine, bringing the total planned support package to more than $4 billion.

LAVROV IN TURKEY

Amid stark warnings of global food shortages partly blamed on the war, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to meet Wednesday with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu during a visit to Ankara.

Talks will focus on efforts to open a security corridor to ship Ukrainian grain, cereals and wheat in particular, stuck in the war-torn country's ports due to a Russian blockade.

"Right now we have about 20-25 million tonnes blocked. In the autumn that could be 70-75 million tonnes," Zelensky said Monday.

At the request of the United Nations, Turkey has offered its services to escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines, some of which have been detected near the Turkish coast.

Both sides accuse one another of destroying agricultural areas, which could worsen global food shortages.

"Those who pretend to be concerned about the global food crisis are, in fact, hitting agricultural fields and infrastructure, where fires are breaking out on an impressive scale," the Ukrainian military said Tuesday, pointing to attacks in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

TRAPPED IN CHEMICAL PLANT

Severodonetsk appeared close to being captured just days ago but Ukrainian forces launched counterattacks and have so far managed to hold out, despite Zelensky warning the defenders are outnumbered by superior forces.

Lanny Davis, a US lawyer for Ukraine tycoon Dmytro Firtash, said 800 civilians had taken refuge in the bunkers inside Firtash's huge Azot chemical plant in the city.

"These 800 civilians include around 200 out of the plant's 3,000 employees and approximately 600 inhabitants of the city of Severodonetsk," Davis said.

The Ukrainian army said Tuesday that Russian troops were also preparing to attack the key city of Sloviansk, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Severodonetsk.

Its capture would open up the route to Kramatorsk, the main city of the Ukrainian-held part of the Donetsk region.

The leader of Ukraine's pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, on Tuesday confirmed the death of another Russian general in the fighting.

Pushilin expressed on Telegram his "sincere condolences to the family and friends" of Major General Roman Kutuzov, "who showed by example how to serve the fatherland".

Ukraine's forces have claimed to have killed several of Russia's top brass but their exact number is not known as Moscow is tight-lipped on losses.

On Tuesday, Zelensky announced the launch next week of a "Book of Torturers", a system that will collect details of alleged war crimes and Russian soldiers accused of committing them.

"I have repeatedly stressed that they will all be held accountable. And we are approaching this step by step," he said.

"Everyone will be brought to justice."