Battle in Ukraine's east rages, Zelenskyy vows to retake territory

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Ukrainian forces struggled to hold their ground in bloody street-to-street fighting in the eastern frontline city of Sievierodonetsk as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation was difficult, also pledging to retake Russia's gains.

The days-long battle for the industrial city has emerged as pivotal, with Russia focusing its offensive might in the hope of achieving one of its stated aims - to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of Russian-speaking separatists.

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“We have to achieve a full deoccupation of our entire territory,” Zelenskyy said by video link at an event hosted by Britain's Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday.

Asked about comments by France's Emmanuel Macron that it was important not to “humiliate” Moscow, interpreted in Ukraine as implying some demands must be accepted, Zelenskyy said: “We are not going to humiliate anyone, we are going to respond in kind.”

The governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said the defenders were finding it hard to repel Russian attacks in the center of Sievierodonetsk.

Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Popasna remain the most difficult places, Zelenskyy said late on Tuesday.

Moscow said its troops have been advancing, while Zelenskyy said the “heroic defense” of Donbas was ongoing.

Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground.

Since being pushed back from Kyiv and Kharkiv, Russia has focused on the region known as the Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, and closest to the Russian border.

Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor.

Ukraine and allies call this a baseless pretext for a war that has killed thousands, flattened cities and forced millions of people to flee. Zelenskyy said Ukraine would launch next week a “Book of Executioners” to detail war crimes.

“These are concrete facts about concrete individuals guilty of concrete cruel crimes against Ukrainians,” he said.

Russia says it has gone out of its way to avoid targeting civilians in its operation in Ukraine.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies collected on Monday showed significant damage in Sievierodonetsk and nearby Rubizhne.

“Russian multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled and towed artillery are deployed to the northeast and oriented in firing positions toward the cities,” the US company said in a release.

Ukrainian officials had said their forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from part of the city center.

Before that, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine's garrison in Luhansk, attempting to cut off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk.

Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv, was also hit by shelling on Tuesday, and the local mayor said one person was killed.

The northeastern city had been quieter in recent weeks.

More than two weeks since a siege of the southern city of Mariupol ended, Tass news agency cited a Russian law enforcement source as saying that over 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered there have been transferred to Russia for investigation.

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