Ukraine forces begin withdrawing from Severodonetsk; city likely to fall to Russia within a day

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Severodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Friday, June 24, 2022, 04:12 PM IST
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Ukrainian special forces fighting in Severodonetsk. Date unknown. | Twitter/@WarMonitor3

After weeks of ferocious fighting, Ukrainian forces will retreat from a besieged city in the country’s east to avoid encirclement, a regional governor said Friday.

The city of Severodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, has faced relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the city’s edge, where they holed up in its sprawling underground structures.

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Severodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said that the Ukrainian troops have been given the order to leave Severodonetsk to prevent that.

“We will have to pull back our guys,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay at the destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will grow every day.”

City in ruins

The city's entire infrastructure has been completely destroyed, he added, with over 90% of houses shelled and 80% of them critically damaged.

It is unclear if the Ukrainian withdrawal has begun - Ukrainian military said on Friday morning that "fighting continues for the city of Severodonetsk".

On Thursday, Russian forces took control of more territory to the south of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, raising fears that Ukrainian forces could soon be encircled there.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February, has been focused on the two cities for several weeks.

They are the last significant Ukrainian positions in the Luhansk region, which together with the Donetsk region make up what is collectively known as Donbas.

Russians advancing

Haidai said the Ukrainian forces have “received the order to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there” but didn’t give further details.

He said the Russians were also advancing toward Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units conducted forays on the city edges but were driven out by its defenders.

The governor added that a bridge on a highway leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian airstrike and became unusable for trucks. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.

The Russian Defense Ministry declared Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling about 2,000 soldiers have been “fully blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.

Following a botched attempt to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in the early stage of the invasion that started Feb. 24, Russian forces have shifted focus to the Donbas region, where the Ukrainian forces have fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

The Russian military controls about 95% of Luhansk province and about half of neighboring Donetsk province, the two areas that make up the Donbas.

“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Luhansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed army of Luhansk.

Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, is a region which Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine aim to fully capture as one of their war aims.

“In many respects, the fate of the Donbas is being decided there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of Severodonetsk recently.

(with inputs from agencies)

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