Ukraine’s grip on key eastern city appears to slip further

Ukraine’s military said Monday that Russian forces have pushed Ukrainian forces out of the center of Severodonetsk, as Ukraine’s grip on the strategic eastern city appears to be getting weaker.

The Ukrainian military said fighting was continuing in the riverside city, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have for weeks been engaged in artillery duels and bloody street battles around devastated neighbourhoods. President Volodymyr Zelensky described the battle as decisive for the fate of his country’s eastern Donbass region. The Allies warned that Sievierodonetsk could fall into Russia within weeks or days.

District Governor Serhiy Haiday said the situation in the city was “extremely difficult” Sunday because the Russian army destroyed a second bridge leading into the city. This left only one more stretch over the Seversky Donets, which was also heavily bombarded.

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“Most likely, today or tomorrow, they will throw out all the reserves to take control of the city,” Hayday said, referring to the Russian forces.

In an update on Monday, Haiday said Russian forces had heavily bombed an industrial area with a chemical factory where about 500 civilians, including 40 children, were sheltering. He added that efforts were underway to evacuate civilians.

In a speech on Sunday evening, Zelensky said that Severodonetsk was the site of “extremely fierce fighting – literally per meter.”

eastern ukraine city Members of a Ukrainian artillery unit prepare to operate their 122mm self-propelled gun after their drones spotted a group of Russian howitzers several kilometers away in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. (New York times)

Russia continued to make slow but steady progress in the Donbass, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Russian forces used their superior artillery to bombard civilian land before moving troops there, as they did when they advanced last month to Severodonetsk. She and neighboring Lysychansk are the only cities in the Luhansk region that have not yet fallen into the hands of the Russian army. The fighting along this eastern front was one of the fiercest of the war.

Sievierodonetsk bears a symbolic meaning for Ukraine. After the Moscow-backed rebels captured the city of Luhansk and much of the provinces of the same name in 2014, Severodonetsk became the de facto regional capital.

However, Ukrainian officials are still wrestling with the issue of withdrawing from what Zelensky called the “dead” city, where most of the prewar population of 100,000 people fled and infrastructure was destroyed. But for now, Ukrainian forces say they will continue to fight, even with the risk of being surrounded.

The battle highlighted Ukraine’s urgent need for more firepower, with Soviet-era ammunition running out, and led to urgent calls from Ukrainian leaders for more military supplies to be delivered faster than the Western Allies.

“Over time, we receive much less than we lose,” said Taras Shmut, director of Come Back Alive, a volunteer NGO that supports the Ukrainian military. “We are exhausted faster than they do.”

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