‘Everything is engulfed in fire’: Ukraine troops cling to chemical plant as Russians slowly gain: Live updates

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“Decisive” battles were raging Monday in villages around Sievierodonetsk as Russian forces pressed an offensive aimed at encircling Ukrainian troops desperately trying to hold the crucial eastern city, the Ukraine military said.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, speaking on Ukraine TV, said the Kremlin has “thrown virtually all its forces and resources” at storming the surrounding settlements and breaking through outmanned, outarmed Ukraine defenses. The city is one of the last remaining outposts for Ukrainian troops in Luhansk Oblast, which along with Donetsk Oblast makes up the industrial Donbas region Russia has sought to control.

“Now, without exaggeration, decisive battles are continuing in the area of Sievierodonetsk, and the enemy plans (to control) Luhansk Oblast” by June 26,” Maliar said.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said only a fraction of the city’s population that once topped 100,000 remain. Ukrainian forces control only the Azot chemical plant, where a about 500 civilians are also taking shelter.

“It’s just hell there. Everything is engulfed in fire, the shelling doesn’t stop even for an hour,” Haidai said.

Latest developments:

►German prosecutors said Monday they seized three apartments and a bank account owned by a Russian lawmaker and his wife, citing European Union sanctions.

►NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Bild that Western backing of Ukraine’s fight against Russia must remain strong. He also said a nuclear attack appears unlikely.

►Germany’s economy minister said Sunday that the country will limit the use of natural gas for electricity production amid concerns about possible shortages caused by a cut in supplies from Russia

CAPTURED:Two US military veterans felt compelled to fight Russia. They’ve been captured in Ukraine.

China now imports more crude from Russia than from Saudi Arabia

China’s crude oil imports from Russia rose 55% in May from a year earlier and topped Saudi Arabia as the top supplier, Chinese Customs officials reported. Moscow was compelled to slash prices as European sanctions dried up demand for its crude in Germany and other countries. China imported more than 8 million metric tons, up from about 5.5 million a year earlier. China has rejected sanctions and pledged some support for Russia in the war. India is among other nations that has also drastically increased purchases of Russian crude.

The U.S. and Britain have cut off purchases of all Russian oil, citing the invasion, while other Western countries are developing plans to do so. Europe remains a major purchaser of Russian natural gas, a dependency that could prove difficult to relinquish when heating demands rise this winter.

Ukraine Father’s Day: Zelenskyy urges country to keep fighting

As Ukraine’s outmanned forces slowly give way in the critical battle against Russia for the Donbas region, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his country’s citizens Sunday in a poignant Father’s Day message Sunday to keep battling for the future of their families and the nation.

Zelenskyy posted 10 photos of parents and children set against the grim backdrop of war, praising fathers who “protect and defend the most precious.” The images reflect the Ukrainian reality in the nearly four months since being invaded by Russia.

“Being a father is a great responsibility and a great happiness,” Zelenskyy wrote in English on Instagram. “It is strength, wisdom, motivation to go forward and not to give up.”

Ukrainian medic who aided wounded on both sides freed by Russians

A celebrated Ukrainian medic who treated soldiers on both sides of the war was freed by Russian forces three months after she was taken captive on the streets of Mariupol, a development Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced this weekend.

Yuliia Paievska is known in Ukraine as Taira, a nickname she chose in the World of Warcraft video game. Using a body camera, she recorded 256 gigabytes of her group’s efforts over two weeks to save the wounded — both Ukrainians and Russians — and had the footage smuggled out of the besieged city by an Associated Press team.

The videos, shown by major networks in the U.S. and Europe, were seen by millions of people globally. They illustrated the war’s brutality but also the medical workers’ humanity. Taira and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on March 16.

“I’m grateful to everyone who worked for this result. Taira is already home,” Zelenskyy said in a national address over the weekend. “We will keep working to free everyone.”

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