Macron takes tough stand on Russia ahead of possible trip to Ukraine

Ukraine: Russia said it would set up a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from a chemical plant in Severodnetsk from Wednesday as Ukrainian forces battle a desperate battle for control of the city.
The industrial center is under intense bombardment as Russia shifts its focus to the eastern Donbass region in an attempt to seize an area of ​​Ukraine.
Moscow’s military has stepped up efforts to cut off Ukrainian troops remaining in the city, destroying all three bridges that connect it across a river to the twin city of Lischensk.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile urged allies to send more heavy weapons to Ukraine, and said coalition officials would discuss the matter in talks on Wednesday.
According to the head of the city’s administration, about 500 citizens are taking shelter at the Azot chemical plant in Severodnetsk.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that a humanitarian corridor would be set up on Wednesday for evacuations from the plant, saying it was “guided by principles of humanity”.
Moscow said the displaced would be taken to the separatist-held city of Svatovo in Lugansk.
There was no response from Kyiv for the announcement, and in a video address on Tuesday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condoled the “painful loss” in the ongoing fighting.
“But we must stay strong. This is our nation… It is important to be there in the Donbass. The Donbass are the key to deciding who will dominate in the coming weeks.”
Following its February invasion, Russia was driven out of Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, prompting it to focus its offensive on the Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking region that was partially relocated in 2014. It was organized by pro-Kremlin separatists.
The capture of Severodnetsk became an important goal, as it would open the way for Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk.
Speaking in The Hague, NATO chief Stoltenberg urged Western countries to send more heavy weapons to Ukrainians, as they “rely entirely on him to be able to stand up to Russian aggression.”
Addressing a news conference after meeting the leaders of seven European NATO allies, he said NATO officials would discuss coordinating further support, including heavy weapons, at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Zelensky told reporters that he regretted “the restrained behavior of some leaders” which, he said, “very slowed the supply of arms.”
Kyiv’s deputy defense minister said Ukraine had received only 10 percent of the weapons demanded from the West.
Kyiv’s forces are facing an increasingly hopeless situation in Severodonetsk, with Ukrainian officials estimating that the Russians now control up to 80 percent of the city as they seek to besieged it.
From a high point in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke rising from the Azot factory in Severodonetsk and another area of ​​the city.
Ukrainian forces are using high ground to exchange fire with Russian forces fighting for control of Severodnetsk, across the water.
Lysychansk pensioner Valentina sat on the porch of her ground-floor apartment, where she lives alone, her two sticks clinging to her hand.
“It’s scary, very scary,” said the 83-year-old former farm worker.
“Why can’t they finally agree, for god’s sake, just shake hands?”
Along the road from Lysychansk to Kramatorsk, Ukrainian forces were moving more weapon systems to the front, while specialist vehicles were carrying tanks for repair.
In the city of Novodruzhesk, near Lysychansk, there was still a smell of burning and smoke from houses that had been destroyed by fire from shelling over the weekend.
“It’s not safe anywhere, it just depends on the time of day, that’s all,” said a soldier standing at a fire station with a skull logo on his sleeve.
As tensions mount with the West, Russia announced it was blacklisting 49 British nationals, including defense officials and leading journalists and editors for the BBC, The Financial Times and The Guardian.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the targeted journalists were “involved in the deliberate dissemination of false and one-sided information.”
In New York, a senior UN official warned Tuesday that Ukrainian children should not be adopted in Russia, where several thousand young people are believed to have been relocated since the February invasion of Moscow.
“We are reiterating, including in the Russian Federation, that adoption should never happen during or immediately after an emergency,” Asfan Khan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) regional director for Europe and Central Asia, told reporters.
Khan said such children cannot be treated as orphans and their movement should be voluntary.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said it had not received a request from London to intervene in the execution of two Britons sentenced to death by pro-Moscow separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine.
Aidan Aslin and Sean Piner, along with Brahim Sadun of Morocco, were convicted by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic of acting as mercenaries for Ukraine.