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US national security adviser says US is in talks with Ukraine over ‘negotiated outcome’ with Russia

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine during fighting on June 14. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of civilian refugees at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk are no longer able to evacuate due to sustained Russian artillery barrages, the Luhansk regional military governor told CNN in a telephone interview on Thursday. .

“It’s impossible to get out of here now,” said Serhiy Hayday. “I mean, it’s physically possible, but it’s very dangerous due to the constant shelling and fighting.”

“If someone came out, they would have a 99% chance of dying,” he added.

Hayday told CNN that 568 people, including 38 children, are currently sheltering in the factory in eastern Ukraine.

Civilians sheltering in Azot have food stocks, but they have not been replenished for two weeks, the head of the military administration of the Severodonetsk district, Roman Vlasenko, told CNN on Wednesday by text message. Most of those housed there are chemical plant employees, their families and some local residents, he said.

“They’ve been hiding there since the very beginning,” he told CNN. “There are real bomb shelters there.”

The Azot plant is a major chemical manufacturer which, before the war, was one of the largest producers of ammonium nitrate, which is used as fertilizer, in the country. DF Group, a conglomerate headed by Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, said the plant had an annual capacity of more than two million tonnes and also produced products such as ammonia.

These compounds, of course, are highly explosive and harmful to human health. But the DF group said in March that she acted quickly to secure the plant when the war broke out in late February and that it “presents no danger” to the surrounding area and its inhabitants.

“After the outbreak of the war, production was completely suspended,” the company said on its website. “The remnants of finished products (fertilizers) and chemicals were completely removed from the territory of the enterprise beyond the Luhansk region.”

Hayday told CNN authorities tried to convince civilians sheltering there to leave the factory last month, before major bridges were destroyed, but many were convinced it would be safer to stay. on the spot.

“They didn’t want to go,” Hayday said. “They thought it was safer there for some reason. The last time we offered to evacuate them was a day or two before the first bridge was destroyed. [on May 21]. My first deputy came to talk to them, but unfortunately they didn’t want to leave.

He said there have been several instances of civilians leaving shelter – for example to cook – and then being injured or killed by incoming fire.

Since this week, the three main bridges between Severodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk have been impassable. Hayday said roads still existed between towns, but required more travel along the Siverskyi Donets River – and greater exposure to incoming fires.

The fact that these roads exist, however, sets the Azot plant apart from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, where civilians and fighters sheltered for weeks earlier this year. In this case, the Ukrainians were surrounded by Russian forces on three sides and the Sea of ​​Azov on the fourth side.

Earlier this week, Russia said it would open a “humanitarian corridor” for civilians from the factory to be evacuated, but only to Russian-held territory to the north, not Ukrainian-held Lysychansk, West.

Hayday said an evacuation would only be possible if there was a full ceasefire, but he was highly skeptical of any promises made by Russia.

On several occasions during the war, Ukrainian officials said, Russian forces broke promises to open evacuation corridors, drove evacuated civilians into their territory, and disregarded ceasefire agreements. fire.

“I hear a lot of what they say, but 99% of it is all nonsense or a lie,” Hayday said. “If there is a complete ceasefire, then we can get people out. But I don’t believe the Russians – as much as they lie, as much as they gave their word and didn’t keep it. There has plenty of such evidence.