Soledar (Ukraine) (AFP) -
Russian forces hammered Ukrainian positions in the Donbas region on Thursday, as Kyiv said Moscow was in control of 20 percent of Ukrainian territory on the eve of the war's 100th day.
Vladimir Putin's troops have set their sights on capturing eastern Ukraine since being repelled from around the capital Kyiv after their invasion began on February 24.
While their advance has been much slower than Moscow expected, Russian troops have expanded their control beyond the 43,000 square kilometres (16,600 square miles) taken when Russia seized Crimea and parts of the Donbas in 2014.
'Today, about 20 percent of our territory is under the control of the occupiers,' Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address to Luxembourg lawmakers.
The invasion, which enters its 100th day on Friday, has allowed Moscow to capture territory that was 'much greater' than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined, added the president.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions forced to flee, with Ukraine's east now bearing the brunt of Russia's assault which Zelensky said was killing up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers every day.
Street fighting was raging in the industrial hub of Severodonetsk in Lugansk, part of the Donbas.
The strategic city is a key target for Moscow which already controls 80 percent of the area, but Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday vowed Ukrainian forces would fight 'until the end'.
Severodonetsk's Azot factory, one of Europe's biggest chemical plants, was targeted by Russian soldiers who fired on one of its administrative buildings and a warehouse where methanol was stored.
- 'Shooting is everywhere' -
Ukrainian troops were still holding an industrial zone, Gaiday said, a situation reminiscent of Mariupol where a huge steel works was the south-eastern port city's last holdout until Ukrainian troops finally surrendered in late May.
In the city of Sloviansk, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Severodonetsk, residents recounted constant bombardments by Russian troops.
Paramedic Ekaterina Perednenko, 24, said she had only just returned to the city five days ago but realises that she will have to leave again.
'It's very difficult here. Shooting is everywhere, it's scary. No water, electricity or gas,' she said.
Retiree Leonid, 79, said he was also leaving the city and would seek refuge elsewhere in Europe.
'I feel pain. The most prominent feeling I have is that we didn't deserve this. We don't understand why we are punished like this,' he told AFP.
Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces assessed that 'the most difficult situation is in the Lugansk region, where the enemy is trying to displace our units'.
He pleaded for modern armaments from NATO, telling France's top general, Thierry Burkhard that 'the enemy has a decisive advantage in artillery.'
'It will save the lives of our people'.
- Financial squeeze -
Bridget Brink, the new US ambassador to Kyiv, promised Thursday that the United States would 'help Ukraine prevail against Russian aggression' after presenting her credentials to Zelensky.
Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden announced that Washington was sending more advanced, Himar multiple rocket lunch systems to Ukraine.
The mobile units can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometres away.
They are the centrepiece of a $700 million package that includes air-surveillance radar, more Javelin short-range anti-tank rockets, artillery ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and spare parts.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of 'adding fuel to the fire,' although US officials insist Ukraine has promised not to use them to strike inside Russia.
Beyond plying Ukraine with armaments, Western allies have also sought to choke off Russia's financial lifeline in a bid to get Putin to change course.
Ramping up an already long list of embargoes, the United States blacklisted Putin's money manager and a Monaco company that provides luxury yachts to Moscow's elite.
Washington hit Sergei Roldugin, labelled 'Putin's middle-man,' Roldugin's opera singer wife Elena Mirtova, and Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova with sanctions, as well as several large yachts in which Putin allegedly has an interest, the Treasury said.
Across the Atlantic, EU nations agreed new sanctions that would halt 90 percent of Russian oil imports to the bloc by the end of the year.
- Hunger crisis -
Russia warned that European consumers would be the first to pay the price for the partial oil embargo.
EU ambassadors dropped, however, the leader of Russia's Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, from a proposed blacklist to win over opposition from Hungary.
But some relief was in view for the overheated oil market as top producers including Saudi Arabia agreed to add 648,000 barrels per day to the market in July, up from 432,000.
The war has wrecked Ukraine's economy, forcing the central bank to more than double its key interest rate in an unprecedented action on Thursday to prop up the hryvnia.
But it carries far wider consequences too, with risks that it could trigger a global food crisis growing.
Ukraine -- one of the world's main producers -- will likely export only half the amount of grain that it did in the previous season, the Ukrainian Grain Association said.
The conflict was already translating into higher costs for consumers purchasing essentials from cereals to sunflower oil to maize, with the poorest among the hardest hit.
The head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, is to visit Russia on Friday for talks with Putin.
The visit is aimed at 'freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries', along with easing the Ukraine conflict, Sall's office said.