THOUSANDS of Ukrainian troops were last night facing a fight to the death with Russian invaders in a horrific city siege dubbed “The New Mariupol”.
Brave defenders were holding out under a hail of artillery as enemy troops — including feared Wagner mercenaries — attempted to encircle Severodonetsk in the east of the war-torn nation.
Russian units have been repelled after trying to enter the city from four directions in recent days — but Vladimir Putin’s commanders have now pushed a 12,500-strong force into the battle.
As civilians fled, Ukrainian fighters ordered to hold the city were dug in under constant shellfire. However, the Russians continued to take huge losses.
Wagner is a private militia run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of tyrant Putin’s closest allies.
It has been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses — but observers say the Kremlin can claim: “It has nothing to do with us.”
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai accused Putin, left, of a “scorched-earth” campaign in his bid to capture the strategically vital city yesterday.
He said: “They are systematically destroying the city. Everywhere is being shelled constantly.”
The governor said nearby Rubizhne had already “shared the fate of Mariupol” and been almost completely destroyed as Russians attempted to trap defenders.
British defence chiefs said yesterday that the capture of Severodonetsk would give Russia control over the entire Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.
Around 10,000 residents were cowering in basements as the city was pummelled last night, while footage emerged showing its main market on fire.
Meanwhile, Russia’s bloodiest single air strike was revealed to have killed 87 Ukrainian troops in a barracks in Desna in the northern Chernihiv region yesterday.
President Volodymyr Zelensky raged: “The invaders are waging a very cruel war against us.
” There has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years — total war, where the enemy tries to destroy as many people and infrastructure as possible. What country has withstood such a scale of attacks?”
New claims of sexual violence against children at the mercy of Russian forces have also been made by Kyiv officials.
Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, said: “Two girls aged 12 and 15 were raped”.
She went on to tell of sex attacks by Russians against a six-month-old girl, as well as twin boys aged two who died.
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