Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Kyiv would not settle for a battlefield stalemate with Russia and that it aimed to regain control of all its territory occupied by Moscow.

“We have already lost too many people to simply cede our territory,” he said by video link at an event hosted by FT Live, in which he added that a stalemate was “not an option” for Kyiv.

“We have to achieve a full deoccupation of our entire territory,” Mr Zelensky said.

Kyiv has previously said that Russian forces now occupy about 20% of Ukrainian territory, including swathes of its east and south.

“We are not going to humiliate anyone, we are going to respond in kind,” Mr Zelensky said, when asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s call not to “humiliate” Russia in order to keep the door open to a diplomatic solution.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are battling Russians street-to-street in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk, trying to hold onto gains from a surprise counter-offensive that had reversed momentum in one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

The fight for the small industrial city has emerged as a pivotal battle in eastern Ukraine, with Russia focusing its offensive might there in the hope of achieving one of its stated war aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.

After withdrawing from nearly all the city in the face of the Russian advance, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swath of the city centre.

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Since then, the two armies have faced off across boulevards, both claiming to have inflicted huge casualties.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s troops were in full control of the residential areas of the city.

“The residential areas of the city of Sievierodonetsk have been fully liberated,” he told a defence ministry meeting in televised remarks.

Before Ukraine’s counter-offensive, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine’s garrison in Luhansk province, cutting off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river.

A woman watches as workers shore up part of her home following a missile strike in Druzhkivka

But following the counter-offensive, Mr Zelensky made a surprise visit to Lysychansk on Sunday, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops’ redoubt.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia was throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture Sievierodonetsk.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said yesterday the situation had worsened since the Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend.

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province, together known as the Donbas, have become Russia’s main focus since its forces were defeated at the outskirts of Kyiv in March and pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv last month.

Russia has been pressing from three main directions – east, north and south – to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Russia has made progress, but only slowly, failing to deal a decisive blow or to encircle the Ukrainians.

In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donbas and Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities, using artillery and air strikes.

In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were picking through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.

“Please help, we need materials for the roof, for the house, there are people without shelter,” shouted Nelya, outside her home where the roof had been shredded. “My niece, she has twos mall children, she had to cover one of her children with her own body.”

Nearby, Nadezhda picked up a children’s pink photo album and kindergarten exercise book from the ruins of her house, and put them on a shelf somehow still standing in the rubble.

“I do not even know where to start. I am standing here looking but I have no idea what to do. I start crying, I calm down, then I cry again.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, in what it calls a “special military operation” to stamp out what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to grab territory.

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Britain’s defence ministry said that Russia was still trying to cut off Sievierodonetsk by advancing from the north near Izium and from the south near Popasna. It said Russia’s progress from Popasna had stalled over the last week, while reports of heavy shelling near Izium suggested Moscow was preparing a new offensive there.

“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” it said.

The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, toldU krainian television there was constant shelling along the frontline, with Russia attempting to push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two biggest Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk.

Mr Kyrylenko said efforts were under way to evacuate people from several towns, some under attack day and night, including Sloviansk where about 24,000 residents, around a quarter of the population, still remains.

“People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,” he said.

Police comb through rubble as they investigate a missile strike in Druzhkivka

Meanwhile, concerns about a global food crisis also grew as Mr Zelensky warned of tightening grain supplies – Ukraine is a top producer of the commodity – due to what Washington described as a Russian strategy of “blackmail”.

Moscow has blockaded the key black sea port of Odesa, and President Zelensky said Ukraine had up to 25 million tonnes of grain that could not be exported.

“In the autumn that could be 70 to 75 million tonnes,” said the president, whose country was the world’s fourth biggest grain exporter before the war.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added his voice to the criticism.

“Right now a Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea is preventing Ukraine’s crops from being shipped to their normal destinations,” he said.

Mr Blinken said it was a deliberate strategy by Mr Putin to force the rest of the world “to give in to him,” and eliminate sanctions on Russia.

“In other words, quite simply put, it’s blackmail,” Mr Blinken said.

Speaking at a State Department conference on food security issues arising from the invasion of Ukraine, he also described as “credible” reports that Russia has stolen grain from Ukraine for resale.

Britain followed the United States by announcing yesterday it would supply longer-range, mobile missile launchers to Ukraine’s forces, which could improve Kyiv’s fight against Russian firepower.

The British defence ministry said it would be supplying track-mounted M270 multiple rocket artillery units, which can strike targets up to 80km away with precision-guided rockets, double the reach of standard battlefield artillery.

The announcement came after President Vladimir Putin had warned that Moscow would hit new targets in Ukraine if the West supplied Kyiv with such weapons – but did not specify which targets.

A destroyed sanatorium in Soledar, a town in the Donetsk region

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hit out at European countries that prevented his plane passing through their airspace, forcing him to cancel a visit to ally Belgrade.

Serbian daily Vecernje Novosti reported that NATO-members Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro had refused access to their airspace.

Russia’s UN envoy storms out of Ukraine meeting

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia stormed out of a UN Security Council meeting yesterday as European Council President Charles Michel addressed the 15-member body and accused Moscow of fueling a global food crisis with its invasion of Ukraine.

He also accused Russian troops of war crimes and crimes against humanity, specifically citing reports of sexual violence – the focus of the Security Council meeting – and describing it as “a tactic of torture, terror and repression.”

During his own statement earlier in the meeting, Mr Nebenzia had “categorically refuted” any accusations of sexual violence by Russian soldiers, condemning what he said was a “lie.”

Vassily Nebenzia left the UN meeting

As he left the Security Council chamber during Mr Michel’s statement, a visibly irritated Mr Nebenzia told Reuters: “I couldn’t stay” because of “the lies that Charles Michel came here to distribute.”

Speaking directly to Mr Nebenzia as he walked out, Mr Michel said: “You may leave the room, maybe it’s easier not to listen to the truth.”

“Mr Ambassador of the Russian Federation, let’s be honest, the Kremlin is using food supplies as a stealth missile against developing countries,” Mr Michel said in the Security Council. “Russia is solely responsible for this food crisis.”