Ukraine to withdraw from key city of Severodonetsk as Russia’s advance progresses – KION546

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By Joshua Berlinger and Tim Lister, CNN

Ukrainian forces withdraw from Severodonetsk, effectively ceding the city to Russia and putting the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk almost entirely under Russian control after months of grueling and bloody fighting

Severodonetsk was one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in the region. Serhiy Hayday, a senior military commander in eastern Ukraine, said the army made the decision to evacuate “because the death toll in unfortified territories may increase every day”.

“It makes no sense to stay,” Hayday said.

It is unclear if Ukrainian forces are currently leaving the city or if they have already evacuated.

Although the capture is a symbolic breakthrough for Russia, it comes after a long and costly battle in which Moscow’s forces ran into stubborn Ukrainian resistance.

The Russian forces diverted much of their firepower to overrun the city, simply destroying any defensive positions the Ukrainians had adopted. The strategy unfolded slowly, with the Russians making painstaking and slow gains around Severodonetsk throughout the spring and early summer.

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

With the army evacuating the city, the fate of those inside the Azot plant is unclear.

Hayday, the head of the Lugansk regional military administration, has repeatedly accused Moscow of scorched-earth tactics, flattening towns with no regard for casualties as it tries to take them.

“All city infrastructure is completely destroyed,” he said of Severodonetsk on Friday.

The battle now moves across the Siverskyi Donets River to Lysychansk, the last town of Lugansk held by Ukrainian forces. And there are already signs that the The Russians will use the same ruthless tactics of aerial bombardment to crush Ukrainian forces, deploying fighter jets, multiple rocket launchers and even short-range ballistic missiles.

Ukraine’s control over Lysychansk has become more tenuous in recent days. Russian forces advanced through several villages south of the city, not without suffering casualties from Ukrainian artillery fire. The Ukrainian army claims that some Russian battalion tactical groups are being consolidated or withdrawn to restore their combat capabilities.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank closely following the campaign, said the Russian breakthrough from the south means they “may be able to threaten Lysychansk in the coming days while avoiding a difficult crossing of the Siverskyi Donets river.”

A victory for Putin, but at what cost?

Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk together form Ukraine’s Donbass region, an industrial heartland dotted with factories and coal deposits that has been the scene of sporadic fighting since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists seized control of two territories – the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk. People’s Republic.

The Kremlin has quietly supported troops there since 2014 and even started granting passports to residents in 2018, with more than half a million distributed by mid-2021, according to Russian state media.

Shortly before invading Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two breakaway territories as independent states, ordering the deployment of Russian troops there in defiance of international law.

The capture of Severodonetsk gives Putin a major propaganda victory in a war that has so far been marked primarily by military setbacks from Moscow. One of the main goals of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” – the official Kremlin euphemism for the invasion of Ukraine – was to take control of Donbass.

Experts expected a quick fight in the region, unlike the battles around Kyiv in the early days of the war which Russia lost. The fighting near the Ukrainian capital was mostly urban warfare, which allowed the Ukrainian army to counteract Russia’s manpower and material advantages by keeping the battles in narrower corridors, where Ukraine’s highly motivated combat force could capitalize on its better knowledge of the local environment.

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

After little success in the first month of the conflict, Russian forces withdrew from around Kyiv, regrouped and concentrated on eastern Ukraine. The new Kremlin offensive to take the Donbass region was launched on April 18, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia’s progress was initially “slow and uneven”, according to US officials, as its military still seemed to be learning from its mistakes in the early days of the invasion.

The wind started to turn in mid-May, when Mariupol, a strategically important port city, finally fell completely to Russian forces following an intense three-month bombing campaign that Ukrainian officials say claimed up to 22,000 lives. The fight there was markedly similar to the Battle of Severdonetsk, both in terms of Russian tactical decisions and with Ukrainian fighters and civilians locked in structures that before the war were used for heavy industry. .

The Russians then increased the intensity of their bombardment in other parts of the Donbass region, a strategy that Zelensky likened to genocide.

Eyes turn to Donetsk

Some experts have questioned whether Russia’s efforts to take Severodonetsk are strategically worth it.

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

“Ukrainian troops have been successful for weeks in attracting substantial amounts of Russian personnel, weapons and equipment into the region and have likely degraded the overall capabilities of Russian forces while preventing Russian forces from concentrating on axes in advance more advantageous.”

If Russian forces capture Lysychansk, and with it the Luhansk region, they will likely concentrate more troops on Donetsk, where progress has been much slower.

The Ukrainian regional military administration claims that around 45% of Donetsk is held by Ukrainian forces, including the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

It is unclear whether the losses inflicted on Russian forces in recent weeks will harm their ability and desire to gobble up more territory, but the Kremlin has not deviated from its ultimate goal of taking these two cities.

Likewise, it remains to be seen whether the punishment suffered by the Ukrainian units left them with enough resources to launch counterattacks against the Russians.

Ukrainian officials have made repeated calls for more military assistance from their allies. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on June 14 that the country had received only 10 percent of the military assistance it requested.

“No matter how professional our army is, without the help of our Western partners, Ukraine cannot win this war,” Maliar said.

Ukrainian commanders will now have to decide whether it is strategically worth continuing to defend Lysychansk, as Kyiv could abandon the city and divert resources to a more consolidated defense of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, Donetsk’s industrial belt.

The Kremlin did not deviate from its ultimate goal of taking all of Donetsk and Luhansk. It now has almost all of these. But the completion of the so-called “special military operation” will likely take many more months, sparking a war of attrition.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Nathan Hodge, Julia Presniakova, Olga Voitovych, Oleksandra Ochman, Rebecca Wright and Rob Picheta contributed to this report.

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