Ukraine readies to cede key battleground city
KYIV: Ukrainian forces prepared on Friday to retreat from the strategic city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fierce fighting, a setback that could pave the way for Russia to seize a larger swath of eastern Ukraine.
The announcement came shortly after the European Union granted Ukraine candidate status in a show of support for the former Soviet republic.
Russia has focused its offensive on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after being repelled from the capital Kyiv and other areas in the first weeks of the February invasion. Since then its forces have gradually made progress despite encountering fierce resistance and sustaining heavy losses.
The industrial hub of Severodonetsk has been the scene of weeks of street battles as outgunned Ukrainians put up a stubborn defence.
But Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region that includes Severodonetsk, said that Ukrainian military forces in the city had received an order to withdraw.
“Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense,” he said on Telegram, adding that 90 percent of the city had been damaged.
The head of Severodonetsk’s military administration, Roman Vlasenko, told Radio Svoboda that the Ukrainian army was still in the city and that it would “take them some time to retire”.
Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would effectively give the Russians control of Lugansk, and allow them to push further into the wider Donbas.
But Ukraine’s retreat from Severodonetsk will not change the course of the war, said Ivan Klyszcz, an international relations researcher at Estonia’s University of Tartu.
“The big picture — of a slow war of entrenched positions — has hardly changed. We cannot expect a massive Russian breakthrough,” he said.
Lysychansk under fire
Gaiday said Russians were now advancing on Lysychansk, which has been facing increasingly heavy bombardments.
The situation for those that remain in the city is bleak.
Liliya Nesterenko, who was cycling toward a friend’s house to feed her pets, said her house had no gas, water or electricity, forcing her and her mother to cook on a campfire.
But the 39-year-old was upbeat about the city’s defences: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (be able to) cope.”
Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed army of Lugansk, said on Telegram that all the villages in the neighbouring areas of Zolote and Hirske were now under the control of Russian or pro-Russia forces.
In a video on Marochko’s Telegram channel, a man in military clothing could be seen replacing a Ukrainian flag featuring a Zolote coat of arms with a red hammer-and-sickle flag.
Russia’s defence ministry said up to 2,000 people were “completely blocked” near Zolote and Hirske, and that around half of Zolote was under Russian control.
Russia has also intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in the past days.
Strong explosions were heard in the city centre on Thursday night, and in the morning the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute were hit by missiles, breaking windows and causing its roof to partially collapse.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2022