Ukraine leader praises Donbas fighters as fighting rages

Ukraine leader praises Donbas fighters as fighting rages

Ukraine's president praised his country's fighters for defying Russian forces in his country's eastern Donbas region, as bitter fighting raged in the city of Sievierodonetsk.

Remember how they hoped to seize all of the Donbas in Russia in the beginning of May? Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late night video address. It is already June 108th, the 108th day of the war. Donbas is holding on. He said Moscow had suffered significant losses as it attempted to capture Ukrainian territory in the region that borders Russia, large parts of which have been controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists for more than eight years.

The street-by-street battle for Sievierodonetsk has become the focus of the conflict as Russia advances toward its larger goal of seizing the industrial region, which is made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post Sunday that Russian forces were heavily shelling parts of the city. He said no one can say how many victims there have been in Sievierodonetsk in the last 24 hours.

In a separate interview on Ukrainian television he said that the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians were sheltering, had also been bombarded.

NBC news has not been able to verify his claims, but Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, said Saturday that 300 to 400 Ukrainian troops remained blocked inside the plant, along with several hundred civilians.

He said Russian forces had established contact with the Ukrainian troops to arrange the evacuation of the civilians, but the troops will only be allowed to leave if they lay down their arms and surrender.

Similar conditions existed at the Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol for weeks before a civilian evacuation was arranged and Ukrainian military commanders ordered to stand down. The fighters who came out of the Mariupol plant were taken prisoner by the Russians.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said in its latest assessment that Ukrainian intelligence suggested the Russian military was planning to fight a longer war. Citing the deputy head of Ukraine's national security agency, it said the intelligence likely indicates the Kremlin has acknowledged it can't achieve its objectives in Ukraine and is adjusting its military objectives in an attempt to correct the initial deficiencies in the invasion. Moscow had extended its war timeline until October, with adjustments to be made depending on any successes in the Donbas, according to the assessment.

Zelenskyy seemed to acknowledge this in his late-night address. He said no one can say how long this burning of souls will last.