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Russian forces continued their offensive in eastern Ukraine, closing in on strategic towns and shelling Kharkiv after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the northeastern city on his first trip out of Kyiv since the start. of the full-scale Russian invasion.

Russian forces increased pressure on Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine after claiming to take the nearby town of Lyman, with Ukrainian officials saying the defenders were holding out in desperate conditions in these strategic areas.

Lugansk regional governor Serhiy Hayday said the situation in Lysychansk had worsened significantly in recent hours and “there are dead and injured”.

In Syevyerodonetsk, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces carried out an assault operation while Hayday said street-to-street fighting raged in the town on the banks of the Donets River.

On May 29, Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to the northeastern city of Kharkiv, venturing out of the capital, Kyiv, for the first time since Russia’s unprovoked invasion began on February 24. .

He visited soldiers on the front line and held a session with local officials, including Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov, regional administrator Oleh Synyehubov and members of the military command.

“You are risking your lives for all of us and for our country,” Zelenskiy’s office, quoting the president, told troops fighting there.

The presidential office posted a video on the Telegram messaging app of Zelenskiy in a bulletproof vest as he roamed areas devastated by Russian shelling in and around the city in recent weeks.

Reuters reported that hours after Zelenskiy’s visit, several explosions were heard in the city and a large plume of smoke was visible northeast of the central area.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said Russian shelling caused fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Russia continued to shell Kharkiv after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.

Russian forces turned their efforts to the eastern part of Ukraine after fierce resistance prevented them from taking Kyiv at the start of the invasion.

The president’s office said Synyehubov told Zelenskiy that Ukrainian forces had made progress in their counterattack against the latest Russian offensive.

“But we are not yet in a position to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements, as shelling continues, or to conduct full-fledged mine clearance and start rebuilding critical infrastructure,” Synyehubov said.

He added that Russian forces had damaged 2,229 high-rise buildings, including 225 completely destroyed, in the area. He said the northern and eastern districts of Kharkiv suffered the most damage, with more than 30% of the housing stock destroyed.

The figures could not immediately be verified.

Earlier, in his late-night video address on May 28, Zelenskiy expressed hope that allies will provide the necessary weapons as Ukrainian forces attempt to halt the advance of Russian invasion forces in the east. .

Zelenskiy said he good news expected on arms deliveries this week, without giving details.

Zelenskiy said the military situation in the Donbass region was complicated, adding that defenses were holding out in a number of places, including Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, the last major areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region.

“It’s indescribably tough out there. And I’m grateful to everyone who stood up to that onslaught,” he said.

Russian invading forces have reportedly made progress in recent days in Donbass in eastern Ukraine, including Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Fighting for control of Syevyerodonetsk continues, with Russian forces carrying out assault operations on May 28, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on May 29.

“With the use of artillery, Russian forces conducted assault operations in the area of ​​the city of Syevyerodonetsk,” the General Staff said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

Hayday, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces dug into the Myr Hotel in northern Syevyerodonetsk.

He said the bulk of Russian forces were unable to advance into the city center and were causing casualties, but he also said Ukrainian troops were not currently able to “push them out of the hotel”.

Russian artillery was also pounding the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must use to close off a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces, and police said there was extensive destruction in Lysychansk.

Ukrainian officials said on May 29 that Russian forces had been pushed back from Bakhmut, although specific battlefield details could not be immediately verified.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its May 28 daily intelligence report that if Russia succeeded in gaining control of these areas, the Kremlin would likely view it as a substantial political achievement, which it could use to justify its invasion. to the Russian people.

In his late-night speech, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was approaching the point where it would outnumber the Russians both technologically and in strike capability.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine had started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States.

“Our country’s coastal defense will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles, they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page on May 28.

He said Harpoon coast-to-ship missiles would be used alongside Ukraine’s Neptune missiles for the defense of the country’s coast, including the southern port of Odessa.

Last month, the Moskva, flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, sank after what Ukraine said was an anti-ship missile attack. Moscow says a fire triggered an explosion of ammunition.

With reports from the AP, AFP and Reuters