Lodi News-Sentinel

Russian bombardmen­t has turned Ukraine’s Donbas into ‘hell,’ Zelenskyy says

- Patrick J. McDonnell and Henry Chu

KYIV, Ukraine — With its grip tightened along the southern coast, Russia redoubled its assault on Ukraine’s Donbas region Friday, turning parts of the country’s eastern industrial heartland into “hell,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

At least a dozen people were killed and scores of homes destroyed in the area of Severodone­tsk, regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said on social media, an assertion that could not be independen­tly verified. Severodone­tsk is the easternmos­t point of the Donbas still in Ukrainian hands after 12 weeks of the current war and a longer fight in the region, dating back to 2014, between pro-Kyiv forces and Moscow-backed secessioni­sts. The nearby city of Lysychansk also came under sustained fire, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said, adding that its troops had repelled a series of attacks in the Donbas over the last 24 hours, destroying 14 armored vehicles and shooting down a Russian drone.

Despite those battlefiel­d successes, the growing war of attrition has exacted a grievous toll on civilians and infrastruc­ture, with people killed or maimed, houses pulverized and power cut off in hard-hit communitie­s.

“It is hell there, and that’s not an exaggerati­on,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.

He condemned a missile strike on the northeaste­rn village of Desna, in which many residents were reported killed, as another example of attempted “genocide” by Russia. “It is a conscious and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible, to destroy more homes, public sites, businesses,” Zelenskyy said.

To bolster Ukraine’s defense, the U.S. Senate approved $40 billion in new aid for Kyiv on Thursday, sending the package to President Joe Biden for his promised signature. In addition, Germany’s finance minister said Friday that the Group of 7 leading industrial­ized nations would allocate $19.8 billion for Kyiv, as part of what the G-7 declared was its commitment “to our united response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and to our unwavering support to Ukraine.”

Western materiel and humanitari­an assistance have been crucial to Ukraine’s ability to defy an enemy whose military might, both in personnel and weaponry, dwarfs its own.

“This is a demonstrat­ion of strong leadership and a necessary contributi­on to our common defense of freedom,” Zelenskyy said of the new U.S. pledge.

But the Kremlin has warned of reprisals against those rallying behind Ukraine and siding with the West. On Friday, Finland’s state-owned natural gas wholesaler, Gasum, said Russia’s Gazprom had announced that it would halt supplies to the Finnish company starting Saturday.

The cutoff comes just a few days after Helsinki submitted its applicatio­n to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on, a move that ends decades of official military nonalignme­nt and incenses Moscow. Last month, Gazprom also shut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria over their refusal to pay for the gas in rubles, which would help prop up the beleaguere­d Russian currency, instead of in the dollars or euros specified under contract.

Gasum Chief Executive Mika Wiljanen told customers that the company had “been carefully preparing for this situation” and should be able to keep the pipelines running.

Regardless of Russian retaliatio­n, whether the increased allied aid to Kyiv can turn the tide of the war, which Ukrainian officials acknowledg­e has entered a “protracted phase,” remains to be seen. With the conquest of Mariupol, the southeaste­rn port city that Russian forces have essentiall­y blown to bits, Moscow now controls access to the Sea of Azov and to land extending to the Crimean peninsula, which the Kremlin illegally annexed eight years ago.

That has had disastrous effects on Ukraine’s economy, particular­ly its ability to ship out the grain that many Ukrainians rely on for their livelihood and millions around the world depend on for food. The loss in trade and the costs of prosecutin­g the war have contribute­d to an enormous budget deficit of $5 billion a month for Kyiv, officials say. And reduced exports and rising prices for wheat have worsened food insecurity in countries uninvolved in the conflict, such as Egypt and Pakistan.

 ?? CAROLYN COLE/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS ?? Smoke rises above 400 new graves in the town of Severodone­ts on Friday, April 15, 2022.
CAROLYN COLE/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS Smoke rises above 400 new graves in the town of Severodone­ts on Friday, April 15, 2022.

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