Russian invasion is ‘Covid-22’ and arms are a vaccine, says Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian president pleads for more outside help in speech at gala to honour Time’s most influential people

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has compared Russia’s invasion to Covid and described weapons and sanctions as a vaccine, as Ukraine’s military position in Donbas worsens.

The Ukrainian president, speaking via video link at a gala to celebrate Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year, lobbied again for more outside help because “the Ukrainian military are dying on the battlefield”.

He asked rhetorically whether the US president, Joe Biden, and members of Congress were using “all the capacity of our influence and our leadership” and called on them to be “100% influential”.

“Weapons and sanctions are … a vaccine … against Covid-22 brought by Russia,” Zelenskiy said, hours after he said the fight for Sievierodonetsk could decide the fate of the entire Donbas – the name given collectively to the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in his country’s east.

Ukraine’s military is holding on to the industrial areas of Sievierodonetsk, as Russia concentrates airstrikes, artillery and mortar fire on taking control of the frontline city.

At times Russian artillery has outnumbered the defenders by 10 to one, according to Ukraine’s military, and about a third of Russia’s total forces are concentrated around the city, where about 10,000 civilians remain, many of them elderly.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the local region of Luhansk, said on Thursday morning that “silence in Sievierodonetsk lasts only when guns are reloaded” and that “street fights continue in the regional centre” as Ukraine’s forces hung on.

Russian forces were focusing all of their might in the area, Ukraine’s security council secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, told Reuters. “They don’t spare their people, they’re just sending men like cannon fodder,” he said. “They are shelling our military day and night.”


Both sides have sustained heavy losses in the battle, with Ukraine admitting the number killed in the wider Donbas front could be 100 or more a day. Its forces appear to be have been pushed back after a failed counterattack over the weekend.

In a rare update from Sievierodonetsk, the commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda national guard battalion, Petro Kusyk, said Ukrainians were drawing the Russians into street fighting to neutralise Russia’s artillery advantage. But he said his forces were suffering from a “catastrophic” lack of counter-battery artillery to fire back at Russia’s guns, and getting such weapons would transform the battlefield.

“Even without these systems, we are holding on fine. There is an order to hold our positions and we are holding them. It is unbelievable what the surgeons are doing without the proper equipment to save soldiers’ lives.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN told the BBC that Moscow’s forces were making steady progress in Ukraine and predicted that the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions would be captured shortly.

Vasily Nebenzya said: “It seems to me that there is progress. No one promised a result in three days or a week.” He added: “Just give it time ... and you will see the Donetsk and Luhansk regions liberated. And, I hope, this will happen very soon.”

Overnight Zelenskiy acknowledged that the struggle for Sievierodonetsk, which has been raging for several weeks, was “probably one of the most difficult throughout this war” and that “in many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there”.

Ukrainian insiders have previously argued the city is not particularly strategic and that their goal has been to inflict heavy casualties on the Russians but Zelenskiy’s statement suggests the city has symbolic importance, not least because it is one of the last two population centres in Luhansk province that Kyiv controls.

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Haidai claimed if Ukraine had access to longer-range rocket artillery that had been promised by the US and UK it would be possible to retake the city quickly. “An artillery duel will begin, the Soviet Union [sic] will lose to the west, and our defenders will be able to clean up Sievierodonetsk in two or three days,” he said.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Russian forces had also “increased their efforts” to advance south of Izium, from where they had failed to progress since April. South-east of the town lie the key cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the last major population centres in Donetsk province.

The attacks were partly designed to draw Ukrainian forces away from the fierce fighting further east. “Russia likely seeks to regain momentum in this area in order to put further pressure on Sievierodonetsk, and to give it the option of advancing deeper into the Donetsk oblast,” the MoD added.


Dan Sabbagh in Kyiv

The GuardianTramp

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