Ukraine to withdraw from key city of Severodonetsk as Russian offensive continues

Severodonetsk was one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in the area. Sergiy Gaidai, a senior military commander in eastern Ukraine, said the military had decided to evacuate “because the death toll in unfortified areas could rise by the day.”

“There is no point in staying,” Hayday said.

It is not yet clear whether Ukrainian forces are leaving the city now or have already evacuated.

While this takeover is a symbolic breakthrough for Russia, it comes after a long and costly battle in which Moscow’s forces met stubborn Ukrainian resistance.

The Russian troops directed most of their firepower towards the capture of the city, simply destroying all the defensive positions that the Ukrainians had occupied. The strategy played out slowly, with the Russians moving languidly around Severodonetsk during the spring and early summer.

Smoke rises over Severodonetsk during heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops.

Ukrainian forces were gradually pushed back several square blocks around the Azot chemical plant, where about 500 civilians, including dozens of children, took refuge – a scene reminiscent of the siege of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

However, with the military evacuating the city, the fate of those inside the Azot plant is unclear.

Gaidai, the head of the Lugansk regional military administration, has repeatedly accused Moscow of scorched earth tactics, where cities are wiped off the ground, ignoring losses in attempts to take them.

“The entire infrastructure of the city is completely destroyed,” he said of Severodonetsk. on Friday.

Now the battle is moving across the Seversky Donets River towards Lysychansk, the last city of Lugansk held by Ukrainian forces. And there are already signs that The Russians will use the same relentless aerial bombardment tactics to overwhelm Ukrainian forces, deploying warplanes, multiple rocket launchers and even short-range ballistic missiles.

Ukrainian control over Lisichansk has become weaker in recent days. Russian troops advanced into several villages south of the city, but not without losses from Ukrainian artillery fire. The Ukrainian military claims that some Russian battalion tactical groups are being enlarged or withdrawn to restore combat capability.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank that closely monitors the campaign, said the Russian breakthrough from the south meant they “could threaten Lisichansk in the coming days while avoiding the difficult crossing of the Seversky Donets River.” “

Putin’s victory, but at what cost?

Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk together make up the Donbass of Ukraine. industrial centre dotted with factories and coal fields, where sporadic fighting has taken place since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists seized two territories – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
The Kremlin has quietly supported troops there since 2014 and even began issuing passports to residents in 2018, with more than half a million passports issued by mid-2021. according to Russian state media.
Shortly before the invasion of Ukraine in FebruaryRussian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two separatist territories as independent states, ordering the stationing of Russian troops there, in violation of international law.

The capture of Severodonetsk gives Putin an important propaganda victory in a war that has so far been characterized largely by Moscow’s military failures. The key goal of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” (the Kremlin’s official euphemism for invading Ukraine) was control of the Donbass.

Experts expected a quick fight in the region, in contrast to the fighting near Kyiv in the early days of the war, which Russia lost. The fighting near the Ukrainian capital was largely urban, allowing the Ukrainian military to negate Russia’s manpower and materiel advantages by fighting in narrower corridors where Ukraine’s highly motivated combat forces could benefit from their better knowledge of local conditions.

However, Donbass is a region of plains and open spaces. The fighting there involved long-range weapons, a type of warfare that favors Russia, its superior power and larger military forces.

After little success in the first month of the conflict, Russian troops retreated from Kyiv, regrouped and concentrated in eastern Ukraine. Kremlin’s new attack on Donbass has begun April 18thThis was stated by the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia’s progress was originally “slow and uneven,” according to US officials, as their army still appears to be learning from its mistakes in the early days of the invasion.
A boy sits on the rubble of a strike-damaged house in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region.
The tide began to turn in the middle of May, when Mariupol, a strategically important port city, finally fell to Russian troops after intensive three-month bombardment what Ukrainian officials say claimed the lives of 22,000 people. The battle there was markedly similar to the battle for Severdonetsk, both in terms of Russian tactical decisions and with Ukrainian fighters and civilians holed up in structures that had been used for heavy industry before the war.
Russian then increased the intensity of their bombardments in other parts of the Donbass, Zelensky’s strategy tantamount to genocide.

The gaze shifted to Donetsk.

Some experts doubt that the Russian effort to capture Severodonetsk was worth it strategically.

“The loss of Severodonetsk is a loss for Ukraine in the sense that any territory captured by Russian forces is a loss – but the battle for Severodonetsk will not be a decisive victory for Russia,” he said. said the Institute of War.

“Ukrainian forces have been able to bring significant amounts of Russian personnel, weapons and equipment into the area for several weeks, which likely worsened the overall capabilities of Russian forces, preventing them from concentrating on more advantageous directions of attack.”

If Russian troops capture Lysichansk, and with it the Luhansk region, they are likely to concentrate more troops in Donetsk, where progress is much slower.

The regional military administration of Ukraine reports that about 45% of Donetsk is held by Ukrainian forces, including the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

It is unclear whether the losses suffered by Russian troops in recent weeks will weaken their ability and desire to seize new territories, but the Kremlin has not deviated from its ultimate goal of capturing these two cities.

Similarly, it remains to be seen if the punishment endured by the Ukrainian units left enough resources to mount counterattacks against the Russians.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly called on their allies for additional military assistance. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said June 14 that the country had received only 10% of the requested military assistance.

“No matter how professional our army is, without the help of our Western partners, Ukraine will not be able to win this war,” Mallyar said.

The Ukrainian command will now have to decide whether it is strategically expedient to continue the defense of Lysychansk, since Kyiv may abandon the city and divert resources to a more consolidated defense of Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka, the industrial zone of Donetsk.

The Kremlin has not deviated from its ultimate goal of capturing all of Donetsk and Lugansk. Now he has almost all of the latter. But the completion of the so-called “special military operation” is likely to take many more months, creating a war of attrition.

CNN’s Nathan Hodge, Julia Presnyakova, Olga Voitovich, Alexandra Ochman, Rebecca Wright and Rob Picheta contributed to this report.