axios.com/2022/06/23/ukraine-donbas-battle-zelensky-eu-membership

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video post Thursday that Russian forces "want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step" as officials reported airstrikes raining down on the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

The big picture: Russian forces have been trying to take the two key eastern Ukrainian cities in the Luhansk region of the Donbas for nearly two months. Now, the battle is "entering a sort of fearsome climax," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told Reuters.

Where it stands: There have been "hellish battles in Severodonetsk" and nearby villages, while the city is being "shelled every day," Luhansk region Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post on Thursday. There's also been "massive shelling" in Lysychansk, he said.

Hundreds of civilians remain trapped beneath the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk.The Kremlin claims its troops have encircled at the plant Ukrainian fighters they last week ordered to "surrender or die," Reuters notes. Haidai disputes this, insisting "Russian forces do not have full control."Zelensky said Russian troops "aim to turn any city into Mariupol," the port city that endured weeks of bombardment before being taken by Putin's forces and where the United Nations warns remaining residents face a "dire" situation.

Between the lines: The onslaught spurred Zelensky to call for "the acceleration of weapons supplies" as European Union leaders in Brussels prepared to formally grant Ukraine "candidate status," the first step in a lengthy process toward the country gaining EU membership at a summit in Brussels.

While the action is largely symbolic, it's likely to boost Ukraine four months into a war that's killed thousands of people, displaced millions of others, devastated cities and created a catastrophic health crisis.

Flashback: "Stench of bodies" reported as Russian troops enter key Ukrainian city

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