Ukraine has denied a ceasefire or concessions to Moscow as Russia intensifies its offensive in the eastern Donbass region and cut off gas supplies to Finland, with Polish President Andrzej Duda set to address the Ukrainian parliament on Sunday.
After weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern city of Mariupol, Russia is launching a major offensive in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass.
Russian-backed separatists controlled large swathes of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk provinces before the February 24 invasion, but Moscow wants to occupy the last remaining Ukrainian-controlled territory in Donbass.
“The situation in Donbass is extremely difficult,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his speech that night. He said Russian forces were trying to attack the cities of Sloviansk and Siviarodonetsk, but that Ukrainian forces had blocked their advance.
Mikhailo Podoliak, Zelensky’s adviser, has refused to agree to a ceasefire, saying Kyiv would not accept any agreement with Moscow involving the acquisition of territory. He said the concessions would hit Ukraine hard because Russia would hit harder after the ceasefire.
“The war will not stop (after the release). It will only be a temporary break, “Podoliak, Ukraine’s chief negotiator, told Reuters in an interview with the president’s office under tight security. “They will launch a new attack, even more bloody and larger.”
There have been recent calls for an immediate ceasefire from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
The end of the war in Mariupol, Russia’s largest city, has given Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after nearly three months of continuous fighting.
The last Ukrainian troops surrendered on Friday after blocking the vast Azovstal steelwork in Mariupol, Russia said.
Mariupol’s full control gives Russia a command of a land route connecting the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow occupied in 2014 with pro-Russian separatists in mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine.
In the separatist-held territory of Luhansk and Donetsk, Ukrainian forces said Saturday they had repelled nine attacks in the previous 24 hours and destroyed five tanks and 10 armored vehicles.
Russian forces are using aircraft, artillery, tanks, rockets, mortars and missiles along the entire front line to attack civilian structures and residential areas, Ukrainians said in a Facebook post. At least seven people were killed in the Donetsk region, they said.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Russia was deploying its BMP-T “Terminator” tank-support vehicle in the attack. There are only 10 available for a unit that has already suffered heavy losses in Kiev’s failed attempt, however, the ministry said, adding that they are “unlikely to have a significant impact.”
Sergei Gaidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said Russian troops had destroyed a bridge over the Sivarsky Donetsk river between Sverdonetsk and Lysichansk. Fighting raged on the outskirts of Severodonetsk from morning to night, he said on the Telegram messaging app.
Across the Sievierodonetsk and Siverskiy Donets rivers its twin Lysichansk forms the eastern part of a Ukrainian-controlled pocket that Russia has been trying to occupy since mid-April after failing to occupy Kyiv.
Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, says it has cut off gas exports to Finland, rejecting Moscow’s demand for rubles for Russian gas after Western countries imposed sanctions on the invasion.
Finland and Sweden on Wednesday applied to join the NATO military alliance.
Gasum, Finland’s state-owned gas wholesaler, the Finnish government and Finland’s independent gas-consumer companies have said they were ready to cut off Russian flows.
Most European supply agreements are marked in euros or dollars. Last month, Moscow cut off gas after Bulgaria and Poland refused to comply with the new terms.
Western nations have also increased their arms supplies to Ukraine. On Saturday, Kyiv received another huge boost when US President Joe Biden signed a bill to provide nearly $ 40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid.
Moscow says Western sanctions, including arms supplies to Kiev, amount to a “proxy war” by the United States and its allies. The war in Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and destroyed cities.
Zelensky said in a call with Draghi on Saturday that he had stressed the importance of further sanctions on Russia and the lifting of blockades on Ukrainian ports.
Duda, who met with Kiev Zelensky last month, is the first foreign leader to address parliament in person since the attack, according to his office. (Reporting by Natalia Zenets, Max Hender, Tom Balmforth of Kiev, David Lodgengren of Ottawa, Lydia Kelly of Melbourne and Reuters Bureau, Madeleine Chambers, Richard Pulin and Doina Chiaku; Reporting by Nick Jiminsky and ed.)