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Russian forces have further intensified their bombardment of the last Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Luhansk region, making their biggest gains in weeks and closing in on capturing the key towns of Syeveyerodonetsk and Lysyshansk.

In the face of Russia’s all-out assault on the Donbass, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on May 27 that he must hold talks with Russian President Vladimir 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.

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

“Very powerful” shelling destroyed 90% of the city’s housing, Hayday added, also citing information he received from the city’s mayor, Oleksandr Stryuk.

Stryuk said earlier that at least 1,500 people had been killed in his town 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.

In its daily intelligence bulletin, the British Ministry of Defense said that while Russian ground forces continue to pressure the Syeyverodonetsk pocket with some success, Moscow appears to have moved old T-62 tanks in recent days. 50 years of deep storage to the theater of operations in the Donbass.

The report assessed that this decision proves Russia’s shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment. Additionally, “T-62s will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and their presence on the battlefield”, British intelligence said.

Zelenskiy, in a May 27 speech to an Indonesian think tank, said it would probably be necessary to talk to Putin to end the war.

“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.

In response, the Kremlin blamed Kyiv on May 27 for a lack of clarity.

“The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters.

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 food supply.

Zelenskiy has become increasingly critical of the West in recent days as the European Union slowly moves towards a possible Russian oil embargo while Ukraine’s military situation becomes increasingly difficult to ballast.

The embargo requires unanimity among the 27 members of the bloc, but Hungary opposes it, arguing that its economy would be seriously affected.

Zelenskiy blasted the lack of agreement within the EU. “How many more weeks will the European Union try to agree on a sixth package? He asked.

In Geneva, the human rights office (OHCHR) said in a May 27 statement that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, although the actual number is probably much higher.

A total of 4,031 people were killed, including nearly 200 children, according to the OHCHR, which has dozens of observers in the country. Most were killed by high impact explosive weapons such as heavy artillery bombardment or airstrikes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in the conflict.

Also on May 27, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that more than 6.6 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring countries and 2.9 million have gone to other European countries.

“According to the latest data we have … 2.9 million refugees have moved beyond Ukraine’s neighboring countries,” UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said during a briefing. briefing in Geneva.

The UNHCR said the largest number of Ukrainian refugees in non-neighboring countries were in Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.

“They often arrive in a state of distress and anxiety, having left family members behind, with no clear plan for where to go, and with fewer economic resources and connections than those who fled earlier.”

Prior to the February 24 invasion, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in areas under Kyiv control, excluding Russia- annexed Crimea and areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the east .

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

Amanda J. Marsh