Sievierodonetsk mayor says Russian forces seize half of city

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces in a “frenzied push” have seized half of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk that is key to Moscow’s efforts to quickly complete the capture of the industrial Donbas region, the mayor told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“The city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block,” Oleksandr Striuk said. He said heavy street fighting continues and artillery bombardments threaten the lives of the estimated 13,000 civilians still sheltering in the ruined city that once was home to more than 100,000.

It’s impossible to track civilian casualties amid the round-the-clock shelling, said the mayor, who believes that more than 1,500 residents have died of various causes since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. Evacuation efforts from Sievierodonetsk have been halted because of shelling.

“Civilians are dying from direct strikes, from fragmentation wounds and under the rubble of destroyed buildings, since most of the inhabitants are hiding in basements and shelters,” Striuk said.

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Electricity to the city has been cut off and people need water, food and medicine, the mayor said: “There are food supplies for several more days, but the issue is how to distribute them.”

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Sievierodonetsk is important to Russian efforts to capture the Donbas before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defense. Moscow-backed separatists already held territory in the region and have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years.

Military analysts described the fight for Sievierodonetsk as part of a race against time for the Kremlin. The city. which is 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of the Russian border, is in an area that is the last pocket of Ukrainian government control in the Luhansk region.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation in the Donbas remains “extremely difficult” as Russia has put its army’s “maximum combat power” there.

At least three people were killed and six more wounded overnight in a Russian missile strike on the city of Sloviansk, west of Sievierodonetsk, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Facebook post on Tuesday morning. A school was among several buildings damaged. A crater marked the road between two apartment buildings heavily pockmarked by shrapnel.

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Blood smeared the floor and stairwell of one building.

Resident Olena Voytenko, 59, said she knew one of the people killed, a man whose apartment caught fire in the blast. She believes he burned to death.

Another resident, Mikhaylo Samoluk, said the strike occurred roughly after 1:30 a.m.

“I was on my sofa and suddenly my sofa just jumped in the air,” he said.

In neighboring Luhansk, two people were killed and four were wounded by shelling, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said Tuesday on Telegram. Haidai didn’t specify when or where the attack occurred.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s time for the government to “move on” after months of scandal. Some of his Conservative Party colleagues think it’s time he moved on instead.

A dozen Conservative lawmakers have called for a vote on Johnson’s leadership since last week, when an investigator’s report blamed “failures of leadership and judgment” by the prime minister and senior officials for allowing boozy government parties that broke the U.K.’s COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Under Tory party rules, a no-confidence vote in the leader will be triggered if 15% of party lawmakers — currently 54 — write letters calling for one.

Bob Neill, a senior Conservative legislator who chairs the House of Commons Justice Committee, said Tuesday it was “in the party’s interest, and actually the country’s interest, for him to move on.”

Lawmaker John Stevenson said he had sent a letter because a confidence vote was the only way to “draw a line” under recent controversies.

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Johnson said last week that senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report should put an end to the “partygate” scandal, which saw 83 people, including Johnson, fined by police over parties in government buildings in 2020 and 2021.

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Johnson said he took “full responsibility” and was sorry — but denied he knowingly broke any rules or lied when he told Parliament last year that there had been no parties. He said it was time to “move on” and focus on grappling with issues like Britain’s cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

But a growing number of Conservative lawmakers are calling for a no-confidence vote in Johnson, who won the party a big parliamentary majority in 2019 but has been dogged by questions about his ethics and judgment.

Former attorney general Jeremy Wright said “partygate” had damaged “the institutions and authority of government” and concluded that “for the good of this and future governments, the prime minister should resign.”

If Johnson lost a confidence vote, he would be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. If he won, he could not face another challenge for a year.

It’s unclear how many letters have been sent but it’s likely more than the 28 Conservative lawmakers who have called publicly for Johnson to quit. There is a growing feeling in the Conservative Party that the 54 threshold will be reached in the next few weeks.

Former Conservative leader William Hague said he thought Johnson “is in real trouble” and a vote was inevitable.

“I think the Sue Gray report has been one of those sort of slow-fuse explosions in politics,” Hague told Times Radio.