In an echo of the prior fall of Mariupol, Ukraine rejected a Wednesday Kremlin ultimatum to surrender the holdout eastern city of Severodonetsk even as Russian forces have it surrounded, with all main bridges destroyed, and have reached the town center. There's further an emerging situation which bears eerie similarity to last month's Azovstal steel plant standoff now playing out in Severodonetsk:
A Russian-backed separatist official said that at least 1,200 civilians, including 127 children, are being "held hostage" at a chemical plant in the besieged Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk.
Speaking to the Russian state news agency TASS, the pro-Russian Luhansk People’s Republic’s interior minister, Vitaly Kiselev, alleged that Ukrainian forces were keeping civilians at the Azot plant "against their will."
Russia has told the militants to come out of the plant immediately and stop their "senseless resistance and lay down arms". Again like Mariupol, it's another 'surrender or die' message. The Ukrainian side is saying the Russian version of events is propaganda, charging that Russian invading forces have trapped civilians inside the large plant.
And just like with Mariupol before, which is in the south, Russia is telling the final Ukrainian resistance that the situation is hopeless and that their demise is inevitable. However, at a moment the defense ministers of multiple NATO countries are meeting in Brussels to consider more urgent weapons transfers amid fast depleting Ukrainian stocks, Kiev is hoping that immediate ramped up additional arms and munitions could allow forces in the Donbas to hold their positions.
According to a description of the bleak situation in Reuters:
The Mayor of Severodonetsk Oleksandr Stryuk said that after the early morning deadline passed Russian forces were trying to storm the city from several directions but claimed Ukrainian forces continued to defend it and were not completely cut off.
"We are trying to push the enemy toward the city center," he said on television, without referring to the ultimatum. "This is an ongoing situation with partial successes and tactical retreats," he added.
There are still thousands of Ukrainian civilians trapped in the city which before the war had a little over 100,000 residents, but is now center of the last battle for Luhansk province.
For over the past week, the large Azot plant has been scene of non-stop, heavy fighting:
View of the Azot plant area of Severodonetsk from the northwestern part of the city pic.twitter.com/DY0oUYPTmf
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) June 12, 2022
Meanwhile the situation of the encircled Azot chemical plant presents an additional danger to all trapped there given the presence of highly volatile chemical compounds:
In a statement released on June 6 on behalf of the Ukrainian businessman who owns the chemical plant, American lawyer Lanny Davis said that around 800 people were sheltered beneath the plant. That included about 200 of the 3,000 employees who had worked there. The workers had stayed behind to protect "as best as possible what is left of the plant's highly explosive chemicals."
The Russian military said it had established a 'humanitarian corridor' on Wednesday for those wishing to leave freely, but which was reportedly disrupted due to resumption of shelling.
Russia proposes opening a humanitarian corridor for over 500 civilians sheltering in Severodonetsk's Azot chemical plant
Given the difficulties evacuating from Mariupol, Ukraine is understandably unresponsive to and skeptical of Russia's proposal
— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) June 15, 2022
The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk Serhiy Haidai summed up the current situation in a fresh statement saying, "Severodonetsk is actually blocked after they blew up the last bridge that connected it with Lysychansk yesterday," speaking of Russian forces.
And the deputy leader of the pro-Kremlin Donetsk People's Republic Eduard Basurin told reporters: "Therefore, the Ukrainian military units that are stationed there remain there forever," while underscoring: "They have two options: Either follow the example of their colleagues and surrender, or die. They have no other option."