Ukrainian servicemen patrol an area near a frontline in Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on Sunday. Reuters
Incessant shelling has left Ukrainian forces defending ruins in Sievierodonetsk, but their refusal to withdraw is stalling a massive Russian offensive across the Donbas.
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"Some 90% of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the city's housing stock has been completely destroyed. There is no telecommunication," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised speech.
"Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers ... We do all we can to hold this advance."
A view shows a residential building destroyed by a Russian military strike in Donetsk, Ukraine. Reuters
Zelensky visited Ukrainian troops on the frontlines in northeastern Kharkiv region on Sunday, his first trip outside the Kyiv region since the invasion began.
"You risk your lives for us all and for our country," the president's office quoted him as telling soldiers as he handed out commendations and gifts.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the "liberation" of the Donbas, an industrial region which includes Luhansk and Donetsk, was an "unconditional priority" for Moscow.
Ukrainian forces in the Donbas said they were on the defensive all day on Sunday. Russian forces fired on 46 communities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, killing at least three civilians, wounding two others or destroying or damaging 62 civilian buildings.
Ukrainian servicemen walk in a trench at a position near a frontline in Donetsk Region, Ukraine. Reuters
Russian shelling also continued on Sunday across several regions such as in Novy Buh in Mykolaiv and Sumy.
A Ukrainian soldier on patrol in trenches near the town of Bakhmut, southwest of Sievierodonetsk, spoke of a nagging fear that his government could be drawn into negotiating an end to the conflict that would result in Ukraine losing territory.
"You know now what I'm most afraid of, now that the fighting is so intense, so tough?" Dmytro, a former English language teacher, told Reuters television. "That we would be told: That's it, stop it, we have a ceasefire."
"A negotiated settlement can only happen on Ukrainian terms and at present if it happened it would be horror," he said, adding that such a move could end Zelensky’s career.
The eastern Donetsk region has faced the brunt of Russia's offensive since its assault on Kyiv failed weeks into the invasion launched on February 24.
Energoatom, operator of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the south of the country, said on Saturday that parts of the facility had been "seriously damaged" by military strikes and one of its reactors was forced to shut down.
Zelensky expressed confidence in Ukraine's ability to reclaim territory, calling on the nation's allies to send more weapons. "We just need enough weapons to ensure all of this. Our partners have them."
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