KRAMATORSK (Ukraine): Russia claimed to have overrun a key rail hub while its troops fought Ukrainian defenders in the streets of another city in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the railroad center Lyman had been “completely liberated’’ by a joint force of Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed separatists.
Meanwhile, nearly 40 miles (60 kilometers) to the east, Russian troops on Saturday sought to encircle Ukrainian defenders in the manufacturing center of Sievierodonetsk, where the fighting cut power and cellphone service and terrorized the civilians who hadn’t fled.
Having failed to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv early in the 3-month-old war, the Russians set out to seize parts of the eastern industrial region Donbas not already controlled by pro-Moscow separatists. They made grinding progress in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up the Donbas.
Control of Lyman would give Russia’s military another foothold in the region. It has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets river, which has so far impeded the Russian advance into the Donbas.
Ukrainian officials have sent mixed signals on Lyman. On Friday, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian troops controlled most of it and were trying to press their offensive toward Bakhmut, another city in the region. On Saturday, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar disputed Moscow’s claim that Lyman had fallen, saying fighting there was still ongoing.
In his Saturday video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as “very complicated’’ and said that the “Russian army is trying to squeeze at least some result’’ by focusing its efforts there.
As his offensive pushed ahead, Russian President Vladimir Putin pressured European leaders to stop arming the embattled Ukrainians and blamed Western sanctions for an emerging global food crisis. The Kremlin said Putin pressed his case in an 80-minute phone call Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron urged an immediate cease-fire and a withdrawal of Russian troops, according to the chancellor’s spokesperson, and called on Putin to engage in serious, direct negotiations with Zelenskyy on ending the fighting. —Agencies