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The military situation in eastern Ukraine is even worse than reported, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said as Russian forces continue to advance in Donbass.

Kuleba made the statement during a live Q&A session with Twitter users during which he also said the country now needs heavy weapons to fight Russia effectively and said the talks peace with Moscow did not really take place.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told a press briefing that fighting in the east had reached “maximum intensity”, with Russian forces storming positions simultaneously.

“We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us,” she said.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 26, said during the call that he did not feel even the faintest glimmer of hope for peace.

Draghi told a press conference that he nevertheless felt ready on Putin’s part to try to find a solution to the international food crisis.

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According to the Kremlin, Putin told Draghi that Russia “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers provided that the politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted. “.

Britain immediately accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom”, insisting there would be no sanctions relief.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin had “essentially weaponized hunger and lack of food among the poorest people in the world”.

Speaking during a visit to Sarajevo, she said any appeasement “will just make Putin stronger in the long run”.

The White House said there were no talks of easing sanctions on Russia in order to secure grain exports.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russian forces are currently blockading Ukrainian Black Sea ports, endangering the world’s food supply.

The international community has called on Russia to unblock ports and allow the export of Ukrainian grain.

The Russian Defense Ministry has proposed a corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports and another to allow ships to leave Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov.

Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle but was unsure whether Russia could be trusted.

The question is how to ensure that “Russia will not violate the safe passage agreement and its military vessels will not sneak into the port and attack Odessa”, he said.

Russian forces briefly reached the last highway of two key towns they were trying to encircle as Western leaders reaffirmed that Putin would not win the war.

Russian forces shelled 40 towns in the easternmost pocket still held by Kyiv in the Donbass, the Ukrainian army announced on May 26.

The Russians were advancing on the main twin towns of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, which lie on either side of the Siverskiy Donets River, with the fighting reaching the limits of Syevyerodonetsk.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of the Luhansk region, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were retreating, but said the last route from Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk remained out of Russian control.

“The Russian army has thrown all its forces into the struggle to capture the Luhansk region. There is heavy fighting on the outskirts of Syevyerodonetsk in one direction. They are just destroying the city,” he added. Hayday said.

Hayday said in an interview posted on social media that “about 50” Russian soldiers reached the highway from Lysychansk to Ukrainian-controlled Bakhmut, and “managed to gain a foothold for some time” before being ” pushed back”.

Hayday said Ukrainian forces were “slowly retreating to more fortified positions” and indicated that further Ukrainian withdrawals would follow because “we must win the war, not the battle”.

The head of Syevyerodonetsk’s local military-civilian administration said the city had been under “constant fire” for a week and a half and that 90% of housing had been damaged in the fighting.

Oleksandr Stryuk, speaking to Ukrainian radio station NV, said around 12,000 to 13,000 people would still be in the town which had a population of 100,000 before the war, many of whom were sheltering in basements. .

The fall of the two cities would leave the entire Luhansk region under Russian control, one of the Kremlin’s objectives in its war.

A senior US Department of Defense official told a May 26 briefing that Russian forces had made gradual progress in the northeastern Donbass region.

The strategy of encircling the entire Donbass region did not work, the official said, so the Russians began to try to pinch the Far Eastern elements of the Ukrainian forces between Syevyerodonetsk and Popasna. This is still an effort to surround Ukrainian forces and cut them off, but on a smaller scale, the official said.

The official also provided an account of Russian forces’ equipment losses during the war so far, saying they were “not insignificant”.

Losses include nearly 1,000 tanks, 350 artillery pieces, nearly three dozen fighter planes and more than 50 helicopters. But the official said the Russian military still has a lot of capability.

Despite its current momentum, Russia cannot win, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 26.

Scholz said that after three months of war, “the capture of all of Ukraine seems further away now than at the start of the war”.

“Putin doesn’t have to win his war, and I’m sure he won’t win,” Scholz said.

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