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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has described the current situation in the Donbass region as “very difficult” as Russian forces and Moscow-backed separatists have attacked the last Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern region of Luhansk.

Russian forces have focused their efforts in the Donbass, Zelenskiy said, using maximum artillery fire and missile strikes while Ukrainian forces are “protecting our land in the way that our current defense resources allow”. .

Fighting on May 27 centered on the towns of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of the Luhansk region, said Ukrainian forces are engaged in a “fierce defence” of Syevyerodonetsk, which is two-thirds surrounded by Russian forces.

“The Russians will not be able to capture the Luhansk region in the next few days as analysts predicted,” Hayday said on Telegram, referring to Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are on the other side of the river. Siverskiy Donets river.

“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that, in order not to be surrounded, we will have to retreat,” he said.

He said earlier that “very heavy” shelling had destroyed 90% of the city’s housing.

The Department of Defense says the current phase of the war is the most active large-scale military aggression to date.

The Ukrainian army reported that eight attacks by Russian troops were repelled in Donetsk and Lugansk during the day, while fighting continued in five locations.

Zelenskiy said Russian forces are trying to achieve some success by next week, when the 100th day of the war will be marked.

“The occupiers are trying to achieve in 100 days of war the goals they hoped to achieve in the first days after February 24,” Zelenskiy said in his evening speech.

Syevyerodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said at least 1,500 people had been killed in his city since the Russian invasion began in late February. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, down from a pre-war population of around 100,000, he said.

On May 27, Moscow-backed separatists also claimed full control of the important battlefield town of Lyman, some 60 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk, but Ukraine’s Defense Ministry denied that the main railway junction fell, saying in a statement that its forces continue to counter the Russians are trying to invade it.

Lyman has been a frontline target as Russian forces push from the north, one of three directions from which they attacked Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region.

On the diplomatic front, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible prisoner swap and blocked Ukrainian grain shipments in a May 27 phone call.

Nehammer, who spoke to reporters after the 45-minute call, said Putin told him Moscow was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine, but the issue is complex. The Austrian leader said his impression during the call was that Putin wanted to create facts on the ground that he could take into account in the negotiations.

Zelenskiy said earlier that he needed to talk to Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine’s sovereignty and existence.

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

Zelenskiy said in a May 27 address to an Indonesian think tank that Ukraine did not want to talk to Putin, but had to face the reality that it will likely be necessary to end the war. that Moscow launched against it on February 24.

“There are things to discuss with the Russian leader. I’m not telling you that our people are eager to talk to him, but we have to face the reality of what we are going through,” Zelenskiy said.

“What do we want from this meeting?… We want our lives back… We want the life of a sovereign country back on its own territory,” he said, adding that Russia did not seem still ready for serious peace talks.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia – which has said it will allow Ukraine to resume grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war – of weaponizing the global crisis. of the food supply.

The last known face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators took place on March 29. Negotiations continued online for some time, but both sides now say they have stalled.

According to a Kremlin statement, Putin briefed Nehammer on measures taken by Russia to ensure safe passage of ships in the Sea of ​​Azov and the Black Sea.

Putin told Nehammer that attempts to blame Russia for difficulties shipping grain around the world were unfounded and stressed that Western sanctions were instead responsible, according to the Kremlin.

“Detailed explanations were given on the real causes of these problems, which arose due to the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, among others,” the statement said.

With information from Reuters and AFP