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Kyiv has defied a Moscow ultimatum to surrender Syevyerodonetsk despite the Russians controlling most of the key eastern city as Western defense ministers meet in Brussels to decide whether to send in more heavy weapons outnumbered and outnumbered Ukrainian forces.

Russia told Ukrainian defenders locked in the city’s Azot chemical plant to renounce their ‘senseless resistance and lay down their arms’ early on June 15, promising a ‘humanitarian corridor’ for civilians taking shelter in the factory with the fighters.

The Russians had planned to take the civilians to territory under the control of Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

British military intelligence said in its June 15 daily bulletin that several hundred civilians were currently in underground bunkers at the Azot plant with Ukrainian fighters.

Syevyerodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said after the morning deadline expired that Russian forces tried to storm the city from several directions but were held back by Ukrainian forces.

“We are trying to push the enemy towards the city center,” Stryuk said on television. “It’s a continuous situation with partial successes and tactical retreats.”

Stryuk said the Ukrainian forces were not completely isolated. “Escape routes are dangerous, but there are,” he said.

Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk region containing Syevyerodonetsk, said the army was defending the city and preventing Russian forces from Lysychansk, the twin city on the opposite bank of the Siverskiy Donets river.

“However, the Russians are close and the population is suffering and houses are being destroyed,” he posted online.

The newsletter published by the British Ministry of Defense said it was “highly unlikely” that Moscow anticipated such stubborn opposition from Ukrainians when it initially planned the invasion.

He added that in the face of the determined Ukrainian response, Russia resorted to urban warfare tactics that rely on heavy use of artillery, causing significant collateral damage throughout the city.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for both more heavy weapons and more EU sanctions against Russia.

In a video-linked address to Czech lawmakers on June 15, Zelenskiy urged the European Union to adopt a seventh set of punitive measures against Moscow for its unprovoked invasion after the one agreed last month that will end the majority of imports of Russian oil.

Earlier, Zelenskiy said late June 14 that Ukraine needed modern anti-missile weapons now, adding that there could be no justification for partner nations to delay delivery.

“We keep telling our partners that Ukraine needs modern anti-missile weapons,” Zelenskiy said. “Our country does not yet have them at a sufficient level, but it is in Ukraine and at the moment that there is the greatest need for such weapons. Procrastination in their supply cannot be justified.”

Zelenskiy said Ukraine was also suffering “painful losses” in the Kharkiv region east of Kyiv, where Russia is trying to strengthen its position after being pushed back.

Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said earlier that Ukraine had only received 10% of the weapons it requested from the West to help fight the Russian invasion.

“No matter how hard Ukraine tries, no matter how professional our army is, without the help of Western partners we cannot win this war,” Malyar said in a televised briefing, saying the ‘West should speed up the delivery of the arms.

Western countries have promised to send sophisticated weapons, including advanced rockets, but their deployment is taking time.

Malyar said there should be “a clear timetable” for deliveries “because every day there is a delay, we are talking about the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.”

Speaking ahead of a June 15 meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said there was an “urgent need” to send weapons to Kyiv more advanced, but warned that familiarizing the Ukrainian army with such weapon systems takes time.

“Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore there is an urgent need to step up,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Ahead of NATO’s two-day meeting in Brussels, dozens of defense ministers from Ukraine’s Defense Contact Group are expected to discuss further arms deliveries to Ukraine.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is set to lead the group’s talks of nearly 50 countries, officials said.

NATO does not participate officially in the talks, to avoid being involved militarily in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and since the non-aligned countries are also part of the group chaired by the United States.

With the Luhansk region with its key city of Syevyerodonetsk almost entirely in Russian hands, a senior NATO official told CNN the war in Ukraine has reached a critical point.

“I think you’re about to get to the point where one side or the other will be successful,” the official said.

“Either the Russians will reach Sloviansk and Kramatorsk [in the Donetsk region adjacent to Luhansk] or the Ukrainians will stop them here. And if the Ukrainians are able to hold the line here, against this number of forces, it will count.”

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

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