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‘Hellish’ battle for Severodonetsk; Ukraine claims attack on Snake Island

June 22, 2022 Updated Wed., June 22, 2022 at 11:08 a.m.

Residents survey damage following a missile strike Monday in Druzhkivka, Ukraine. The missile hit a residential neighborhood in the early morning hours of Sunday, killing one woman and damaging or destroying 80 buildings including a church.  (Spokesman-Review wire archives)
Residents survey damage following a missile strike Monday in Druzhkivka, Ukraine. The missile hit a residential neighborhood in the early morning hours of Sunday, killing one woman and damaging or destroying 80 buildings including a church. (Spokesman-Review wire archives)
By David Walker,Amy Cheng,Ellen Francis and Bryan Pietsch

The fate of the eastern Luhansk region hangs in the balance as Russian forces intensify efforts to seize control. Ukraine says the village of Toshkivka, south of Lysychansk, fell to Russia earlier this week and is now being used as a base to bombard the city. “Hellish battles” are ongoing in Severodonetsk, the regional governor said Wednesday, while Lysychansk is “constantly suffering from enemy fire.” The mayor of Severodonetsk says up to 8,000 people are still holed up in his city, while others have been transported to Russian-held areas.

Ukraine said it inflicted “significant losses” in an attack on Russian-occupied Snake Island in the Black Sea. Moscow said its forces repelled the attack, but a series of before-and-after satellite images released by Maxar appeared to show newly damaged and charred areas on parts of the island on June 21. Russia has been fortifying Snake Island to secure its defenses in the Black Sea, where a naval blockade is preventing Ukrainian grain exports.

Ahead of a European Commission summit Thursday and Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is conducting a marathon session of calls with leaders across the continent to maximize his country’s chances of being granted candidate status for membership in the European Union. “The lives of thousands of people depend directly on the speed of our partners - on the speed of implementation of their decisions to help Ukraine,” he said in a speech Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Russia issued a decree proclaiming the area outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “Donetsk People’s Republic Square,” state media reported, the latest move in a dispute over the area’s name.

The name references the Russian-aligned, self-proclaimed breakaway region in eastern Ukraine. It follows an announcement by Russia in May that the square would be called “Defenders of Donbas Square,” a reference to the larger Donbas region, including Donetsk, on which Moscow has set its sights.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said at the time that it was “surprised but not offended” by the “Defenders” name, saying in a statement to Reuters that it was “presumably in honor of Ukrainian soldiers bravely defending their homeland from Kremlin aggression. The country should know its heroes.” The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Renaming the periphery of an embassy is a rare but occasional tool used to irritate a foreign government. This month, D.C. renamed the street in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington after Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist whose murder was found by the CIA to have been ordered by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

Here’s what else to know:

- Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders says Russian forces “executed” a Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier who accompanied him in a forest near Kyiv in March.

- The White House said Moscow’s suggestion that two Americans captured by Russian forces in Ukraine could face the death penalty was “totally appalling.”

- Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Tuesday and tapped a former top Justice Department official to help Ukraine with its war crimes prosecutions.

- Russian President Vladimir Putin laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. The anniversary, known in Russia as the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow, is also marked in Ukraine and Belarus. An estimated 26 million Soviet citizens died during World War II.

- Estonia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the alleged violation of its airspace by a Russian helicopter last week, in the latest sign of rising tensions between Baltic nations and Russia over the Ukraine conflict. According to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the incident took place near a border checkpoint in southeastern Estonia on June 18.

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