The industrial center is under intense bombardment as Russia directs its offensive against the eastern Donbas region in an attempt to seize part of Ukraine.
Moscow’s troops have intensified their efforts to seal off Ukrainian troops still in the city, destroying all three bridges connecting the city across a river to its twin city, Lysychansk.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, urged allies to send more heavy weapons to Ukraine, and said alliance officials would discuss the topic during talks on Wednesday.
According to the head of the city administration, about 500 civilians are sheltering in the chemical plant in Azot in Severodonetsk.
Russia’s defense ministry announced on Wednesday that a humanitarian corridor would be set up for factory evacuations, saying it was “guided by the principles of humanity”.
The evacuees would be transported to the town of Svatovo in the separatist-controlled Lugansk region, Moscow said, urging those standing by the factory to end their “pointless resistance”.
There was no response from Kiev to the announcement, and in a video address Tuesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky complained of “painful losses” in the ongoing fighting.
“But we have to stay strong. This is our nation… Staying there in Donbas is crucial. Donbas is the key to deciding who will dominate in the coming weeks.”
After the February invasion, Russia was expelled from Kiev and other parts of Ukraine, prompting the country to focus its offensive on Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region partly controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.
Conquering Severodonetsk has become an important goal, as it would open the way to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk.
NATO chief Stoltenberg in The Hague urged western countries to send the Ukrainians heavier armaments because they “depend absolutely on it to resist the brutal Russian invasion”.
At a press conference after meeting the leaders of seven European NATO allies, he added that NATO officials would discuss coordination of further support, including heavy weapons, at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
Zelensky, meanwhile, told reporters he regretted what he called “the reticent behavior of some leaders,” which he said “had greatly delayed arms deliveries.”
Ukraine has received only 10 percent of the weapons it has requested from the West, Kiev’s deputy defense minister said.
Kiev’s armed forces face an increasingly desperate situation in Severodonetsk, with Ukrainian authorities estimating that the Russians now control up to 80 percent of the city as they try to surround it.
From an elevated position in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke billowing from the Azot plant in Severodonetsk and another area of the city.
The Ukrainian army uses the high ground to exchange fire with Russian troops fighting for control of Severodonetsk, across the water.
Retired Valentina from Lysychansk sat on the porch of her ground-floor apartment, where she lives alone, with her two walking sticks to hand.
“It’s scary, very scary,” said the 83-year-old former farm worker.
“Why the hell can’t they agree, just shake hands?”
Along the road from Lysychansk to Kramatorsk, Ukrainian troops transported more weapons systems to the front, while specialized vehicles transported tanks for repairs.
In the town of Novodruzhesk, close to Lysychansk, there was still a smell of fire and smoke from houses 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 by a fire station with a skull logo on his sleeve.
As tensions with the West mount, Russia announced it was blacklisting 49 British citizens, including defense officials and prominent reporters and editors from 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 on Tuesday that Ukrainian children should not be adopted in Russia, where thousands of young people are said to have been displaced since the invasion of Moscow in February.
“We reiterate, including to the Russian Federation, that adoption should never take place during or immediately after emergencies,” Asfhan Khan, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) regional director for Europe and Central Asia, told reporters.
Such children cannot be assumed to be orphans and their movement must be voluntary, Khan added.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, said it had not received a request from London to intervene in the case of two Britons sentenced to death by pro-Moscow separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine.
Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, along with Moroccan Brahim Saadun, were convicted by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic of acting as mercenaries for Ukraine.