Timeline: Week 18 of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Al Jazeera recaps key events in week 18 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A local resident rides a bicycle past a heavily damaged building in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk Region.
A resident rides a bicycle past a heavily damaged building in the city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Here, Al Jazeera looks at the major events that marked the 18th week of the war in Ukraine:

June 22

Russian forces fight to take Sirotyne on the western edge of Severodonetsk. They continue an encirclement of Lysychansk, taking Vovchoyarivka west of the city, and Rai-Oleksandrivka and Loskutivka south of the city.

As the encirclement of Lysychansk nears completion on both banks of the Siversky Donets river, the Russians are reportedly preparing a crossing.

About 20km (12.4 miles) southwest of Lysychansk, Russian forces are trying to seize Berestove, with its commanding heights over the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway, a crucial logistics avenue.

Russian troops storm Zolote and Hirske, two settlements near Popasna that had formed a Ukrainian defensive enclave.

Russia threatens Lithuania with serious consequences over the blockade of rail supplies to Kaliningrad. Lithuania is unique in bordering Russian territory to its west as well as to its east, and is the conduit for rail cargoes from one to the other. It has announced it will apply the European Union embargo on both Russian territories.

Ukraine says it has taken 1,026 settlements back from Russian control.

(Al Jazeera)

June 23

Ukraine’s general staff say fighting continues in Severodonetsk, and the Russian encirclement of Lysychansk from the south was repulsed at Borivske, just 6km (3.7 miles) east of Lysychansk, and on the outskirts of Lysychansk itself.

Brigadier-General Oleksiy Gromov says the situation is “difficult”, with Ukrainian forces conducting a “manoeuvring defence in order to deplete the enemy”.

In the United States, Congressman Adam Kinzinger introduces a bill to train Ukrainian pilots and support crew on F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, signalling to Russia that the day may come when Ukrainians receive NATO warplanes for their defence.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas warns Europe not to underestimate Russian President Vladimir Putin – he is in it for the long haul. “I’ve heard talks that, you know, there is no threat any more because they have exhausted themselves. No they haven’t” she said. “They have plenty of troops still who can fight. They are not counting the lives that they are losing. They are not counting the artillery that they are losing there. So I don’t think that we should underestimate them in the longer term to still keep this up, “ Kallas told The Associated Press news agency.

At a virtual summit of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) major emerging economies, Chinese President Xi Jinping blasts US-led sanctions against Russia. Nations need to “reject the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, oppose unilateral sanctions and abuse of sanctions, and reject the small circles built around hegemonism”, Xi was quoted as saying.

June 24

Ukraine says defenders in Lysychansk are still holding out, but for the first time the defence ministry does not mention fighting in Severodonetsk, suggesting the city has been tactically surrendered.

Though there is still rearguard fighting, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai says the city will be abandoned. “Unfortunately we will have to withdraw our servicemen from Severodonetsk, because it makes no sense to be in broken positions – the number of dead is growing.”

Haidai says 90 percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed from four months of constant bombardment. Of additional concern to defenders is that an encroaching Russian encirclement of neighbouring Lysychansk risks leaving Severodonetsk isolated. The withdrawal is set to last a few days. The Russian defence ministry does not specify that it has control of Severodonetsk.

The European Union officially invites Ukraine and Moldova to become candidate countries for EU membership. The European Council of government leaders says it will “continue to provide strong support for Ukraine’s overall economic, military, social and financial resilience”, ordering the European Commission to provide a proposal for new macrofinancial assistance of nine billion euros [$9.4bn] to Ukraine this year, and ordering defence ministers to “swiftly work on a further increase of military support”.

The council reprimands Russia for “weaponising food”, saying it is “solely responsible for the global food security crisis it has provoked”. It calls on Russia to stop removing cereals from Ukraine and to unblock the Black Sea port of Odesa to international merchant shipping. Russia has offered to do so if sanctions are lifted.

(Al Jazeera)

June 25

Sixty-two Russian missiles strike cities in northern, western, central and southern Ukraine far from the front as Russia tries new tactics, for the first time activating Iskander missile batteries on the territory of Belarus and firing X-22 missiles from Tu-22M3 aircraft operating in Belarusian airspace. In the south, Russia fires Onyx missiles.

All three types of missile are “extremely difficult targets for air defence systems in Ukraine’s possession,” says Ukraine’s air force. The latter two types fly at 3,000km/h (1,864 miles per hour), while Iskander is a ballistic missile reaching great altitudes.

Black Sea-based Kalibr missiles and Tochka-U missiles in Belarus are also used. Despite this, Ukraine does manage to shoot down an unspecified number. It also shoots down a number of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles throughout the week.

Russia’s TASS news agency quotes Andrey Marochko, an officer of the breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), saying that fighting is taking place inside Lysychansk.

“The people’s militia of the LPR with the allied forces of the Russian Federation entered the city of Lysychansk. Now the fighting is already taking place in urban areas.

“At the moment, the mine, which is located on the territory of Lisichansk, has already been captured, and our units have also entered the so-called gelatin factory,” Marochko said.

The Institute for the Study of War says NASA confirmed the data of heat anomalies in the Lysychansk outskirts. Marochko also says Russia is working to encircle the Lysychansk area, trapping some 4,500 Ukrainian troops.

Ukraine’s general staff report defenders have repulsed a Russian attack on Volodymyrivka, which lies on the front of the Russian advance towards Bakhmut.

Vadym Skibitsky, deputy chief of Ukrainian military intelligence, says 4,000-6,000 Belarusian special forces troops and air components are training with 1,500 Russians near the borders with Ukraine. “The threat is that they may be preparing sabotage and reconnaissance groups, which may then enter our territory,” he told Ukraine’s RBC News.

Skibitsky believes Russia plans to annex the eastern Donbas region and hold a referendum in the southern city of Kherson on September 11, leading to annexation.

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, says “certain events” will take place from August that will mark a turning point in the war.

June 26

Ukraine’s general staff reports that Russian forces continued their southern encirclement of Lysychansk, now the main target of the Russian offensive in the east. They heavily shell and bomb Mykolaivka and Kodema, villages on the western edge of Russian conquest in the Donbas, advancing a broad front towards the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway that used to be a critical logistics route for the Ukrainian defenders of Lysychansk.

Russian Telegram channel Rybar says Russia has control of Severodonetsk and the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway, and is crossing the Siversky Donets river.

Russia continues to intensify missile use, with 10 missiles striking cities in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces shot down about one in three in one particular salvo.

June 27

Ukraine’s general staff say fighting continues on the southern fringes of Lysychansk. Russian forces attempting to complete their encirclement of the city from the south and west are repulsed at Verkhnokamyanka. Haidai, the Luhansk governor, asks residents of Lysychansk to evacuate, suggesting that logistics routes are still not cut off.

“There is no hour when the Russian guns are silent,” Haidai says, citing enormous damage to housing.

Russian missiles strike a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, killing at least 18.

Meanwhile, the Group of Seven (G7) meeting in Elmau, Germany, appears to back Ukraine’s maximalist territorial position and call on Russia to withdraw to “internationally recognised boundaries”.

A day ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is to increase its Readiness Force (NRF) from 40,000 to 300,000.

The White House says US exports to Russia have fallen by 97 percent since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, hampering Russia’s ability to maintain its military and its factory production. The US is also preparing to halt imports of gold, which, it says, “will prevent Russian participation in the formal gold market”, depriving it of its second-biggest export.

Ukraine’s military intelligence says sanctions are beginning to hurt Russia’s ability to find spare parts for civilian aircraft.

Russia defaults on its sovereign debt for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, as a 30-day grace period on $100m of interest payments expires. Russia insists it has the money to service its $40bn in foreign-currency debt, but not the mechanism to buy currency with which to do so. It says it will in future pay in roubles.

June 28

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador of the breakaway LPR, claims Russian troops are a third of the way through Lysychansk and fighting near the Shakhtar stadium. He says Ukrainians are still defending the refinery.

Miroshnik says there was renewed fighting in Verkhnokamyanka and claims Russian forces have fjorded the Siverski Donets river north of the city, at Shepilovo and Pryvillia. This is confirmed by Russian channel Rybar. Ukraine’s general staff says Russian forces are fighting further south for control of the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway.

Ukraine says it has discovered the first names of the TU-22 pilots who bombed the Kremenchuk shopping centre.

Addressing the UN Security Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes the case that Russia is firing missiles at civilian targets indiscriminately, and calls on the world to recognise it as a “terrorist” state.

Zelenskyy says that apart from the Kremenchuk attack, Russia in the last 24 hours killed eight civilians queueing for water in Lysychansk, nine people in Kharkiv including five children, and three people in Ochakovo near Mykolaiv. “Who among you does not agree that this is terrorism,” he asks.

Following the Kremenchuk attack, seven UN Security Council members issued a statement condemning the Russian invasion and attacks on civilians in particular. Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, says forensic experts are at the scene gathering evidence for the International Criminal Court.

The 46-nation Council of Europe also condemns Russia’s attack on Kremenchuk. Its secretary general, Marija Pejčinović Burić, described the attack as “an act of sheer barbarism” showing a “flagrant disregard for human life”.

Ukraine’s military intelligence says Russia is trying to mobilise Belarus.

Ukraine says ACS Panzerhaubitze self-propelled howitzers donated by Germany are operational.

Bulgaria expels 70 Russian diplomats – more than half the mission.

June 29

Haidai says the main Russian offensive is focused on areas northwest of Lysychansk at Vovchoyarivka and Verkhnokamianka. Conquest here would complete the Russian encirclement of Lysychansk. He says the Russians have two battalion tactical groups in Lysychansk and enjoy superiority in men and machinery.

Ukraine’s general staff say Russians are also advancing on Bakhmut, with fighting taking place in the settlements of Midna Ruda and Klynove, with partial success, and in Pokrovske, all within 15km (9.3 miles) of Bakhmut. The fighting here is led by Wagner mercenaries.

NATO formally invites Finland and Sweden to become members of the alliance, after Turkey lifts its veto. It is unclear what deal, if any, has been made behind the scenes, but the administration of US President Joe Biden throws its support behind modernising Turkey’s F-16 fleet, a request Ankara made last October. Turkey also says it will seek a dozen extraditions of Kurdish individuals whom it considers “terrorists” from the two countries.

Putin denies Russia was responsible for the missile attack that destroyed a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, killing 18.INTERACTIVE_Ukraine_SnakeIsland Map

June 30

Ukraine’s general staff say Russian forces are fighting for control of Lysychansk, including around the refinery. Russia’s TASS news agency says Ukrainian troops in Lysychansk are ordered to withdraw. The news is attributed to LPR officer Marochko.

A few kilometres northwest of the city, they renew their attack on Verkhnokamianka, which separates Russian forces from a section of the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway. Russian forces shell or attack numerous settlements near the highway further south. They also attack settlements around the E40 highway further west, which runs from Bakhmut to Slovyansk.

After being pounded by Ukrainian missiles, Russian forces are withdrawn from Snake Island in the Black Sea. The Russian defence ministry presents this as a “gesture of goodwill” to demonstrate that it is not causing a famine by blockading the export of Ukrainian grain. “Now it is up to the Ukrainian side that is still not clearing the Black Sea coastline, including the harbour waters,” the ministry says.

A Russian official says the first shipment of Ukrainian grain has sailed from the port of Berdyansk, which Russia controls. The 7,000-tonne shipment is headed “for friendly countries”, says Evgeny Balitski, the head of Berdyansk’s pro-Russian administration.

Source: Al Jazeera