The 16th week of Russia’s war on Ukraine saw Moscow’s forces press their offensive in the country’s east as they attempt to seize complete control of the Donbas.
The strategically important city of Severodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, was subjected to a major onslaught in particular as Ukrainian troops scrambled to try and prevent it from falling into Russian hands.
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Meanwhile, Kyiv continued to appeal for additional heavy weaponry from its Western allies in a bid to bolster its defences and avoid being outgunned.
And on the diplomatic stage, Pope Francis stirred controversy when he said the war “was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”.
Here, Al Jazeera looks at the major events that marked the 16th week of the war in Ukraine:
Ukrainian defenders continue to engage the Russian onslaught on the streets of Severdonetsk, belying Russian claims to have taken the city, says Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai. He says Russian efforts to surround the city have also so far failed, and the situation is “difficult but controlled”.
Russian Readovka News reports that Russian forces have taken control of Severdonetsk airport, 9km from the city, and Ukrainian defenders are fighting from a part of the Azot chemical plant in the city. Russian forces have advanced to Sviatohirsk, 27km southeast of Izyum, but have failed to advance south of Lyman to occupy the western bank of the Siverskyi Donets River.
Ukraine’s general staff says French Caesar howitzers are now in effective use in the field. Ukraine’s presidential office says Norway has delivered 22 155mm M109 self-propelled howitzers. The US ships another planeload of M777 155mm howitzers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it has identified 4,253 Ukrainian civilians killed since the start of hostilities.
Turkey accepts as “reasonable” a UN plan to export Ukrainian grain by creating a safe corridor for bulk shipping from Odesa. The plan stalls on Ukrainian security concerns and Russian demands for sanctions relief.
Russian forces continue to try to dislodge Ukrainian defenders from their last stronghold in Severdonetsk, the Azot industrial area. Ukrainian defenders say they desperately need artillery reinforcements. “If we quickly get Western long-range weapons, an artillery duel will begin, the Soviet Union will lose to the West, and our defenders will be able to clean up Severdonetsk in two or three days,” says Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai.
Russian forces also make another unsuccessful attempt to take Toshkivka, south of Severdonetsk, which would pave the way for an advance on the Siverskyi Donets River from the south.
Russian forces advancing from Izyum continue to try to secure Sviatohirsk.
Russian forces strengthen their defences in Kherson, including the use of mines. The Ukrainian head of the Zaporizhia administration, Oleksandr Starukh, reports that Russian forces in Zaporizhia have received 80 new tanks over the last month.
Ukraine’s defence minister says Polish Crab 155mm self-propelled howitzers are ready for deployment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin likens his conquest of Ukraine to Peter the Great’s conquest of what is today northwestern Russia in a war fought against Sweden in 1700-1721. When Peter the Great founded St Petersburg and declared it the Russian capital, “none of the countries in Europe recognised this territory as belonging to Russia”, Putin said. “Everyone considered it to be part of Sweden. But from time immemorial, Slavs had lived there alongside Finno-Ugric peoples. It is our responsibility also to take back and strengthen.”
Russian forces continue to shell Severdonetsk and attempt to storm the Ukrainian positions in the city. Pro-Russian media agree that Ukrainian forces continue to control the highway from Severdonetsk to Lysychansk and Bakhmut. Russian forces working their way north from Popasna are shelling settlements east of Bakhmut in an attempt to take control of the highway. Ukraine’s general staff believes Russia is preparing a new assault on Slovyansk.
Ukraine’s general staff say the Ukrainian air force conducted air strikes on concentrations of enemy equipment in five settlements in the Kherson region, continuing the Ukrainian counterattack there.
Ukraine’s southern command says Russia has added a cruise-missile carrying submarine to the forces blockading Odesa, bringing to 40 their cruise missile capacity.
Ukrainian forces repel a Russian offensive to take full control of Severdonetsk. Russian sources claim 300-400 Ukrainian defenders are surrounded inside the Azot chemical plant and are negotiating terms of surrender for themselves and civilians there, but Ukrainian sources say this is propaganda as their side controls a third of the city including Azot.
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence says Russia is attempting to field three active battalions from each brigade, stretching their operational ability to the maximum. “Most brigades normally only commit a maximum of two of their three battalions to operations at any one time,” the UK MoD says. “The third battalions within brigades are often not fully staffed. Russia will likely have to rely on new recruits or mobilised reservists to deploy these units to Ukraine.”
Numerous sources say Russian occupation authorities issued their first passports to Ukrainian citizens – 23 in Kherson and 30 in Melitopol.
Russia continues to take Ukrainian produce. The Luhansk department of agroindustrial development reports that Russian forces transported 15,000 tonnes of sunflower seeds and 10,000 tonnes of grain from Luhansk oblast. It says Ukrainian producers are offered 30 percent of the price they would get for their produce in Ukraine.
Ukraine says there are 4.1 million internally displaced persons.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tells Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Ukraine will know whether it will be granted candidate status for European Union membership by June 24th.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai says Russian forces have destroyed a second bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River and are shelling a third, in an effort to cut off Ukrainian forces in Severdonetsk from their lines of resupply. The tactic suggests that Russian forces do not plan to ford the river themselves. The Ukrainian general staff says it has pulled its forces from the city centre.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai says Russia has cut off all bridges to Severdonetsk, making further evacuation of civilians impossible, but evacuation still remains possible from Lysychansk. The third and last bridge to be destroyed was reportedly old and unsuitable for military vehicles. Haidai denies Russian claims to have encircled the Ukrainian forces. Defenders of Severdonetsk post videos showing themselves in possession of the power plant in the industrial district.
In the south, Ukrainian forces attack Russian lines of defence on the east bank of the Inhulets River in the Kherson district. Fighting is especially fierce around Davidov Brod.
Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tells The Economist that Ukraine needs speedier delivery of weapons to keep resisting Russia.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appears to suggest that Ukraine will have to accept a loss of sovereignty or territory in return for peace, during a press conference in Finland.
Russia earned $98bn from fossil fuel exports during the first 100 days of its war in Ukraine. Sixty-one percent of exports went to Europe, according to research by the independent Finnish Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Some researchers estimate that the war is costing Russia a billion dollars a day, matching earnings from oil and gas.
Russia’s defence ministry says it will grant safe passage to civilians fleeing Severdonetsk on June 15. It says Ukraine requested the evacuation, having destroyed the last bridge out of the city towards Ukrainian-held territory to prevent its soldiers from retreating. Russia also says Ukrainian forces barricaded in the city’s Azot chemical plant are using civilians as shields. Ukraine says Russia blew up all three bridges out of the city and its soldiers are still fighting and don’t need evacuation.
Ukraine estimates that Russia has lost 32,300 servicemen since the war began.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat says that because it has been successfully denied access to unoccupied Ukraine’s airspace, Russia is increasingly firing low-precision cruise missiles from strategic bombers over the Black Sea. The imprecision of these weapons, plus the fact that Ukraine’s air defences, including S-300 and Buk-M1 anti-air batteries, are designed to shoot down aircraft, not missiles, means they often get through and hit civilian infrastructure. Nonetheless, Ignat says the Air Force is having increasing success against Russian missiles, without elaborating.
Ukraine’s defence ministry tallies that it has shot down 213 out of 450 military aircraft deployed against it since February 24, and 178 out of 250 helicopters. However, Ignat points out, these losses are replenished from Russia’s deep reserves.
Pope Francis causes controversy when he says the war in Ukraine “was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”.