Ukraine will not cede territory: Zelenskiy

Ukraine will fight to regain all territory occupied by Russian troops, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says as his troops struggle to hold their own in bloody street-to-street fighting in the city of Sievierodonetsk.

“We’ve already lost too many people to give up our territory just like that,” Zelenskiy said via video link at an event hosted by the Financial Times newspaper.

“We must achieve a complete expropriation of our entire territory.”

Zelenskiy’s comments responded strongly to suggestions that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia to end the war, now in its fourth month.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a recent interview that it was important not to “humiliate” Russia, comments that were interpreted in Ukraine as implying that it must accept some Russian demands.

Asked about Macron’s comments, Zelenskiy said: “We are not going to humiliate anyone, we are going to respond in kind.”

The governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said the defenders are struggling to fend off Russian attacks in the center of Sievierodonetsk, a small industrial town to the east.

“The Russians are trying with all their might to take Sievierodonetsk and close the highway from Lysychansk to Bakhmut,” he said in an online post.

“In the regional center it is difficult to avert the attacks, but the occupiers are not in control of the city.”

Russia said its troops are advancing.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation on the ground.

The battle for Sievierodonetsk has emerged as a pivotal battle, with Russia concentrating its offensive force in hopes of achieving one of its stated goals – completely conquering the surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.

Ukrainian officials had said their forces launched a surprise counterattack last week, driving the Russians out of part of the city center.

Before that, Russia appeared to be on the brink of encircling the Ukrainian garrison at Luhansk, trying to close off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River.

Gaidai said in his post that Lysychansk was constantly bombed.

Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, was also hit by shelling early on Tuesday, and the local mayor said one person was killed.

The northeastern city was heavily bombed during the first two months of the war, but has calmed down in recent weeks after Russian forces withdrew to the region.

Viacheslav Shulga, an employee of a pizzeria in northern Kharkiv that was hit, said there were hopes the restaurant could reopen soon after its closure at the start of the war.

“Everything has been destroyed. We are removing equipment, there are no cases here for the time being,” he said.

“It’s sad that so much effort went into it. But someone else decided our fate.”

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters and some countries have accused Russia of creating the risk of global famine by closing Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

The governor of the region that included the port of Mykolaiv said weekend shelling had destroyed warehouses in one of the country’s largest agricultural goods terminals.

Russia denies responsibility for the international food crisis and blames foreign sanctions.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Russian-occupied Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol are ready to resume grain exports.

Ukraine says such shipments from territory seized by Russian troops would amount to illegal looting.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine was gradually receiving “specific anti-ship systems”, the best way to break a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

The Kremlin said that in order to resume exports from Ukrainian ports, Ukraine must first clear the mines.

Russia would then be able to inspect ships and escort them into international waters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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