Ukraine retreats from Severodonetsk, as Russia continues

DRAZKIVKA, Ukraine – After weeks of bloody street fighting and months of deadly artillery fire, Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Severodonetsk, the city President Volodymyr Zelensky once said would determine the “fate” of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk military administration, confirmed the withdrawal from the devastated industrial city on the eastern bank of the Seversky Donets. It represents the Ukrainian military’s biggest loss since Russian forces captured Mariupol a month ago after a similar campaign of heavy bombing and street fighting left the southern port in ruins.

This means that the Russian army can now fully focus on controlling Lyschansk, the twin city of Severodonetsk on the west bank of the river and the last city in the Luhansk region still under Ukrainian control. Analysts expect that the Russians will then set their sights on capturing the remnants of the Donetsk region still under the control of Ukrainian forces, which will complete their conquest of Donbass.

For now, the battle was far from over, and the fight for what became known as the Severodonetsk Pocket, a slice of land now about 15 miles wide and three quarters wide surrounded by Russian troops, has entered a new phase as Russia. Troops are moving to encircle Lysychansk.

“Our colleagues stuck up,” said Oleg, a Ukrainian tank crew member captured from the Russian T-80 captured from the front for repairs, and its dark green hull was repainted with the Ukrainian flag. “They repel the enemy’s attack and hold the defense.”

Mr. Heidi said it “doesn’t make sense” for Ukraine to stick to what he described as disabled sites in Severodonetsk. About 90 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed, according to Ukraine, and only about 8,000 civilians remained out of the 160,000 before the war.

“The death toll will increase every day,” Mr. Heidi said on Friday. “It was decided that our defenders would withdraw to new positions and fortified areas, and from there they would conduct hostilities and inflict damage on the enemy.”

The battle for Sievierodonetsk was brutal. Street-to-street urban battles punctuated by heavy artillery shelling resulted in casualties on both sides. Ukrainian forces attempted to slow the Russian advance, using buildings and alleys to approach and nullify the superior Russian firepower.

The destruction of the three bridges linking Severodonetsk and Lychansk in recent weeks has left Ukrainian forces in an increasingly precarious position: sending reinforcements to Severodonetsk was nearly impossible and evacuating the casualties was equally difficult.

Sergey, a Ukrainian paramedic stationed in Lysichansk, said that the wounded “sometimes die because the evacuation extends from one and a half to two hours,” and noted that the injured often had to be transported across the Seversky Donets River in small quantities. boats. “Human resources are worth more than the buildings left there,” he added.

The Ukrainian defenders of Lyschansk would soon face a similar dilemma as the forces that were in Severodonetsk. Russian forces have pushed into the southeastern outskirts of Lysichansk after breaching Ukrainian defenses in the east this week, and are preparing to advance further south, cutting off the main highway to the city.

The defenders of Lysychansk had an advantage in its elevated terrain, which provided firing positions for artillery. But if the Russians penetrate into the neighboring villages, then the Ukrainian army will begin to lose this advantage.

Russian forces have already begun attacking the supply lines to Lysichansk by targeting vehicles, bridges, and major intersections with air strikes and artillery shelling.

If they occupy the city, Russian forces can then advance to the southwest, targeting a key strategic supply center in the city of Bakhmut, where in recent days Russian forces have begun to increase pressure with cruise missile strikes and artillery shelling.

“It increasingly appears that the Sievierodonetsk-Lysychansk enclave could become unacceptable, but given the limited forces available to Russia, it is likely that they will clash with another line of Ukrainian defenses at Bakhmut,” said Michael Kaufman, director of Russian studies at CNA. Research Institute in Arlington, Virginia. “Russia is making increasing gains, but its ability to seize Donbass remains highly questionable.”

Ukrainian officials have said that up to 200 soldiers are dying daily in fields and villages in eastern Ukraine.

The Russians also suffered heavy losses, according to military analysts. Some analysts said that by holding out for weeks in Sievierodonetsk, the superior Ukrainian army forced Russia to put more men and armor into the fight, severely weakening Russia’s combat capabilities in other regions.

These analysts say the fighting may have allowed time for more long-range Western weapons to flow into Ukraine and to begin launching counter-attacks in other parts of the country.

The “Kremlin’s ideological fixation” on Sievierodonetsk is likely to be the ultimate damage to Russian capabilities in future advances in Ukraine, although the city’s loss remains a blow to Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War, and Washington. Thursday based research institute.

Mr. Zelensky had described Severodonetsk and Lysichansk as “dead cities” that had been smashed by bombing and emptied of people. In recent weeks, he has alternated between explaining the advantages and risks of withdrawing from the two cities.

A little over two weeks ago, he portrayed the fight for Sievierodonetsk as pivotal in the broader war for control of eastern Ukraine. “In many ways, the fate of our Donbass is decided there,” he said in a speech to the nation on June 8.

“We are defending our positions and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy,” said Mr. Zelensky. “This is a very fierce battle, very difficult. It is probably one of the most difficult of all this war.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces had captured 10 Ukrainian villages in the Luhansk region over the past five days and claimed to have surrounded up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in the region. The ministry’s claims, which have been exaggerated or false in the past, cannot be independently verified. A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman dismissed the report as false.

With Russia demanding more land, a partisan resistance movement appears to be growing in the occupied cities, fueled by Russian repression and deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions, not to mention Ukrainian nationalism.

In the latest attack, Ukrainian guerrilla fighters on Friday claimed to have killed a Kremlin-backed politician in the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson.

Dmitry Savluchenko, head of the region’s youth and sports department, was blown up in his car, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials. Kirill Strimosov, deputy head of the Russia-appointed department, called the attack a “despicable act of terrorism.”

“Threats that come my way will not break me and my comrades,” he said in a video address, seated under a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “No matter what happens, even after us, Russia will be here, and our children will speak Russian.”

Ukrainians celebrated the attack and said their resistance was increasing.

“Our supporters have achieved another victory,” Serhiy Khelan, adviser to the head of the military administration of the Kherson region, wrote on Facebook on Friday. “A pro-Russian traitor and activist was blown up in a car in one of Kherson’s squares in the morning.”

The head of Ukraine’s intelligence agency said this week that Ukrainian militants had wounded another Russian-backed official, Oleksiy Kovalev, in the Kherson region. At least two additional attacks on people working with the Russians were also reported in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions this week.

The Russians did not acknowledge all the attacks, which were reported through witness accounts that were passed on to Ukrainian officials.

Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol and the unofficial spokesperson for the Ukrainian resistance in his city, said at a press conference on Friday that bounties of up to $10,000 were being offered for the killing of senior proxy leaders for Moscow.

Thomas Gibbons Neff Reported from Druzhivka, Ukraine, Mark Santora from Warsaw and Michael Levinson from New York. Contribute to reporting Ivan Nikiburnko From Istanbul and Natalia Yermak from Druzhkivka.

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