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June 26, 2022, 6:30 p.m. EDT

Russia strikes Kyiv as Western leaders meet in Europe

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By Associated Press

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For weeks, Lysychansk and the nearby city of Sievierodonetsk have been subject to a bloody and destructive offensive by Russian forces and their separatist allies aimed at capturing all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

They have made steady and slow progress, with Haidai confirming Saturday that Sievierodonetsk, including a chemical plant where hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians were holed up, had fallen.

Commenting on the battle for Sievierodonetsk, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said late Saturday that Russian and Moscow-backed separatist forces now control not only the city but the villages surrounding it. He said the Russian military had thwarted Ukrainian forces’ attempt to turn the Azot chemical plant into a “stubborn center of resistance.”

Capturing Lysychansk would give Russian and separatist forces control of every major settlement in Luhansk. At last report, they controlled about half of Donetsk, the second province in the Donbas.

On Saturday, Russia launched dozens of missiles on several areas across the country far from the heart of the eastern battles. Some of the missiles were fired from Russian long-range Tu-22 bombers deployed from Belarus for the first time, Ukraine’s air command said.

Reacting to the shelling from the Russian bombers, Zelenskyy appealed to the people of Belarus to resist cooperation with the Russian military. “The Russian leadership wants to draw you – all Belarusians – into the war, wants to sow hatred between us,” he said in his video address Sunday. “You can refuse to participate in this war. Your lives belong only to you, not to someone in the Kremlin.”

Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground before Russia invaded Ukraine, but its own troops have not crossed the border. In a meeting Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system.

On the economic front, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said banning imports of Russian gold would represent a significant escalation of sanctions.

“That is the second-most lucrative export that Russia has after energy.” Blinken told American news channel CNN. “It’s about $19 billion a year. And most of that is within the G-7 countries. So cutting that off, denying access to about $19 billion of revenues a year, that’s significant.”

Russia is poised to default on its foreign debt for the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, further alienating the country from the global financial system following international sanctions imposed over its war in Ukraine.

The country faces a Sunday night deadline to meet a 30-day grace period on interest payments originally due May 27. But it could take time to confirm a default.

Russia calls any default artificial because it has the money to pay its debts but says sanctions have frozen its foreign currency reserves held abroad.

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