Russian forces take most of Sievierodonetsk city in eastern Ukraine, now a bombed-out wasteland
- Russian troops press their ferocious bid to complete the capture of Sievierodonetsk
- Fall of city would be an important milestone for Moscow and pro-Russian separatists
Ukraine said that Russia had taken control of most of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, a bombed-out wasteland whose capture Moscow has made the principal objective of its invasion.
Russia’s all-out assault on the city in Ukraine’s Luhansk province has been met by tough resistance from Ukrainian forces. Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk acknowledged that capturing the city was taking longer than hoped, despite one of the biggest ground attacks of the three-month-long war.
After failing to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and being driven out of northern Ukraine, a Russian victory in Sievierodonetsk and across the Siverskyi Donets river in Lysychansk would bring full control of Luhansk, one of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
Western military analysts say Moscow has drained manpower and firepower from other parts of the eastern front to concentrate on Sievierodonetsk, hoping a massive offensive will secure surrounding Luhansk province for separatist proxies.
Luhansk’s regional governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said on Tuesday that nearly all critical infrastructure in Sievierodonetsk had been destroyed and 60 per cent of residential property damaged beyond repair.
“Most of Sievierodonetsk is under the control of the Russians. The town is not surrounded and the prerequisites for it to be are not in place,” Gaidai said. Russian shelling had made it impossible to deliver aid or evacuate people, he added.
A pro-Moscow separatist leader said that fighting was raging in the city but that Russian proxies had advanced slower than expected to “maintain the city’s infrastructure” and exercise caution around its chemical factories.
“We can say already that a third of Sievierodonetsk is already under our control,” Russia’s Tass state news agency quoted Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying.
Gaidai warned Sievierodonetsk residents not to leave bomb shelters due to what he said was a Russian air strike on a nitric acid tank at the city’s Azot chemical plant, which caused a huge leak of fumes.
The Luhansk People’s Republic’s police force said Ukraine’s forces had damaged it. Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists traded accusations over a similar incident in April.
Sievierodonetsk, which is 145km (90 miles) south of the Russian border, is in an area that is the last pocket under Ukrainian government control in the Luhansk region. The Donbas is made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “is now hurling men and munitions” at Sievierodonetsk, “as if taking it would win the war for the Kremlin. He is wrong,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote this week.
Thousands of residents remain trapped in the city. Russian forces were advancing towards its centre, but slowly, regional governor Gaidai said. Russia’s advance could force Ukrainian troops to retreat across the river to Lysychansk, he added.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council aid agency which had long operated out of Sievierodonetsk, said he was “horrified” by its destruction.
Up to 12,000 civilians remain caught in crossfire, without sufficient access to water, food, medicine or electricity, Egeland said.
“The near-constant bombardment is forcing civilians to seek refuge in bomb shelters and basements, with only few precious opportunities for those trying to escape,” he said.
There were few reports of major shifts elsewhere on the battlefield. In the south, Ukraine claimed to have pushed back Russian forces to the border of Russian-held Kherson province.
Moscow took control of Kherson in March. Residents there have staged protests against Russian occupation. Mobile and internet access in Kherson were shut down on Tuesday, Ukrainian officials said, blaming Russia for disconnecting cables.
There was no immediate Russian comment on the events in Kherson. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said troops there were fighting on “despite the fact the Russian army has a significant advantage in terms of equipment and numbers”.
Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse