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Ukraine’s top general told his US counterpart that his country desperately needed ‘fire parity’ with Russia to ‘stabilize’ the difficult situation in the east, where Kyiv forces have suffered setbacks against troops from Moscow supported by heavy artillery bombardment.

“We discussed the operational situation and the flow of international technical assistance delivery,” Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy wrote in an online post after holding a June 24 phone call with Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. President of the United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kyiv has received billions of dollars in aid from its Western partners since the unprovoked invasion of Moscow began on February 24.

But they say much more is needed as Russia, bolstered by an advantage in artillery power, continued its searing advance focused on encircling Ukraine’s last pocket of resistance in the region. east of Luhansk.

Hirske, a key neighborhood south of the city of Lysychansk, was “fully occupied” by Russian forces as early as the morning of June 24, local officials said on television, as Ukrainian forces were also set to attack. abandon their last positions in the city of Syevyerodonetsk. .

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“Unfortunately, from today… the whole district of Hirske is occupied,” Hirske municipal leader Oleksiy Babchenko said on television. “There are some insignificant local battles taking place on the outskirts, but the enemy has entered.”

The loss of Hirske and several other settlements around left Lysychansk, about 35 kilometers to the north, in danger of being surrounded on three sides by advancing Russian forces.

A regional official said early on June 24 that Ukrainian forces were withdrawing from Syevyerodonetsk in the face of continued Russian assault, which would make Lysychansk, across the Siverskiy Donets River, the last major city under control. Ukrainian in Luhansk.

Russia was on the verge of capturing Syevyerodonetsk after weeks of house-to-house battles against the Ukrainian defenders, who were gradually dislodged by relentless heavy artillery fire that turned the city into rubble.

“It doesn’t make sense to stay in shattered posts for several months just to stay there,” Serhiy Hayday, head of the Lugansk region’s military administration, told television.

He said the troops had already been ordered to move to new positions, but did not say if they had already done so or where they were going.

Hayday also wrote on the Telegram messaging app that Russia had taken control of the village of Mykolayivka, located near a key highway to Lysychansk, where Ukrainian troops successfully repelled a Russian attack on the southern outskirts of the town.

A US military official told reporters at a briefing that while Washington does not want to downplay Ukrainian casualties in life or property, recent gains by Russian forces appear to have been “limited”.

“What [Ukrainian troops] do is put themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves.”

“The Russians are just gaining inch by inch of territory here. And I think it’s important to think about the cost that Russia has paid for this very small, very incremental gain,” the official added.

Four months into Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbour, fierce fighting has stretched both sides’ personnel and equipment resources, with Kyiv repeatedly pleading with the West for more heavy weapons and Russia facing increasing difficulties in bringing in qualified personnel. the front line.

The UK Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, said in its daily intelligence bulletin On June 24, a Russian pilot captured earlier this month after his plane was shot down confessed to his Ukrainian captors that he was a retired air force major now working as a mercenary for the Vagner group, a private Russian military company linked to the Kremlin.

British intelligence suggested that the use of retired personnel and private contractors in flight operations indicated a shortage of trained Russian crews.

This, according to the bulletin, could be the consequence of a combination of Russia’s insufficient number of properly trained personnel and its combat losses. Additionally, the use of commercial GPS systems on Vagner’s planes indicates a lack of up-to-date avionics equipment, he said.

The White House announced late June 23 additional military aid for Kyiv, including four more HIMARS long-range multiple rocket launchers, tens of thousands of artillery rounds and patrol boats. The value of the package was $450 million, White House spokesman John Kirby said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked the United States for continued military support.

“We are grateful to [U.S. President Joe Biden] and the American people for the decision to provide another $450 million defense assistance package to Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter June 24.

“This support, including additional HIMARS, is now more important than ever. Through joint efforts, we will liberate Ukrainian land from the Russian aggressor!” he concluded.

However, two officials with direct knowledge of US intelligence assessments told CNN that Russian forces are slowly gaining an advantage in eastern Ukraine. The Russians have learned from mistakes made earlier during the invasion and are now better coordinating air and ground attacks and improving logistics and supply lines, officials said.

One of the victories Kyiv celebrated on June 23 was the announcement by EU leaders meeting in Brussels that the bloc had formally agreed to take a “historic” step of making Ukraine and Moldova of candidates for EU membership.

The move was welcomed by the leaders of both countries, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said there could be “no better sign of hope” for the countries’ citizens. in these troubled times.”

“It’s a win,” Zelenskiy said smiling in a brief video posted on his Instagram channel, noting that Ukraine had waited 30 years for this moment.

“We can defeat the enemy, rebuild Ukraine, join the EU, then we can rest,” he added.

With reporting from Reuters, AFP, BBC, CNN and TASS