“Nothing has changed in Severodonetsk, the situation remains difficult. Fighting continues, but unfortunately, most of the city is under Russian control. Some positional battles are taking place in the streets,” Serhiy Haidai, the Governor of Luhansk, said.
Russian-backed officials claim that negotiations are ongoing to release those inside the local Azot chemical plant, where 800 people are reportedly sheltering.
“The combatants are holed up inside the Azot plant. The release of their hostages and their surrender is being negotiated,” Rodion Miroshnik, a leader in the Russian-allied Luhansk People’s Republic, said.
Miroshnik claimed up to 400 Ukrainian combatants are taking refuge in the factory complex, alongside civilians in the plant’s bomb shelter.
“The combatants are trying to make demands, namely to allow them to leave the territory of the chemical plant together with the hostages and to provide a corridor to go to Lysychansk. Such demands are unacceptable and will not be taken into consideration,” Miroshnik said.
Talks are also underway to allow for the safe evacuation of the civilians, and for the safety of the Ukrainian forces if they surrender unconditionally, he added.
Death toll climbs in Mariupol
Further south in Mariupol, an additional 24 deaths of children were reported by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office on Saturday, following Russian shelling during a months-long siege in the southern port city.
The blockade ended last month after Russian forces took control of the Azovstal steel plant where Ukrainian forces had holed up.
This brings the total death toll of minors during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to 287, the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a Telegram post. More than 492 children have been injured during the war, according to the statement.
The statement added that these figures are not complete, as work is underway to verify the deaths of children in other places where there is active fighting.
The office also said that 1,971 educational institutions have been damaged by Russian bombardments, with 194 of them having been completely destroyed.
On May 25, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, Petro Andrushchenko — who has also moved to Ukrainian-held territory — told CNN that Mariupol town hall officials believe at least 22,000 residents of the city were killed during three months of war.
Access to drinking water, internet connection and phone services are unreliable in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, the report said, reflecting concerns of Ukrainian officials as Russia scrambles to provide basic public services to civilian populations in areas it has occupied.
‘Ukraine will definitely prevail’
As Russian forces advance their control of key regions in Ukraine, and the number of civilian casualties rise, President Volodymyr Zelensky has remained firm in his stance that Ukraine will overcome Russia’s invasion.
Speaking in a special virtual address to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense conference, Zelensky said Ukraine will “definitely prevail” in its war against Russia.
“This is the confrontation between the possible, which we and many people in the world need, and the impossible, for which Russia is so desperately fighting for,” Zelensky said.
He added Russia regarded his country as its “colony” and was doing its utmost to make it impossible for Ukraine to “exist freely and independently.”
“Russia wishes to make it impossible for our people to use their land, resources and water in their best interest. Russia wishes to steal it, and this active looting of the territory it has (managed) to occupy — they are taking away literally everything,” Zelensky added.
“It is on the battlefield in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are being decided along with the boundaries of the possible,” Zelensky said.
“Let us save the whole world from coming back to the times when everything was decided based on the so-called right of might and when certain peoples and their ideas, and many nations, were of no consequence,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine’s president also urged leaders to do whatever is needed to “break the ability of Russia and any other country in the world to block seas and destroy freedom of navigation.”
Zelensky warned that failure to do so would result in an “acute and severe food crisis and famine” in many Asian and African countries. He added that the Black Sea, through which Ukraine exported most of its food stuff before Russia’s invasion, has become the most dangerous waterway in the world.
Before the war, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost 30% of global trade, and Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. The United Nations World Food Program — which helps combat global food insecurity — buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if Ukrainian ports are not opened up.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful for your support to Ukraine, I am grateful for your attention to Ukraine, to our country. But please remember that this support and this attention is not only for Ukraine, but for you as well,” Zelensky said.
CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko, Jonny Hallam and Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting.