The battle for eastern Ukraine’s main city, Severodonetsk, raged on Sunday, with Russian forces carrying out assault operations that led to street fighting with Ukrainian defenders.
It was unclear whether Severodonetsk – at the center of weeks of fierce fighting – had been surrounded by reports suggesting government troops had pushed back Russian soldiers in close combat. Regional officials reported that Russian forces were “storming” the strategic eastern town.
“With the use of artillery, the Russian forces carried out assault operations in the sector of the city of Severodonetsk,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement on Sunday. “The fighting continues.”
Inside Severodentsk, where around 15,000 civilians live, a local official said “constant shelling” was making it increasingly difficult to enter and exit.
“Evacuation is very dangerous, these are isolated cases where we manage to get people out. Now the priority is the injured and people who need serious medical assistance,” said Oleksandr Striuk, head of the military and civil administration of the city.
The water supply was also increasingly precarious as the lack of electricity meant that the city’s well pumps were no longer working, he said, adding that residents had gone more than two weeks without a connection. cell phone.
The only road providing contact with the outside world, meanwhile, is expected to be at the center of continued Russian attacks, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said late Saturday.
“Next week will be very difficult because Russia will put all its resources to seize Severodonetsk, or cut off the oblast from all communication with Ukraine,” he said.
Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from the city to avoid capture, Haidai said.
Ukrainian fighters repelled an assault on Severodonetsk but Russian troops pushed on to surround them anyway. Haidai later reported that Russian forces had seized a hotel on the outskirts of town, damaged 14 high-rise buildings and were fighting in the streets with Ukrainian forces. Striuk said there was fighting at the city bus station.
Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said the Russians still failed to encircle the city and the Ukrainian defenders inflicted “appalling losses” on them.
But the Ukrainians were also suffering heavy casualties, both civilians and combatants, they said in a briefing document.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin is inflicting untold suffering on Ukrainians and demanding horrific sacrifices from his own people in an effort to take over a city that does not deserve the price, even for him,” they said.
Russian gains in recent days in Donbass in eastern Ukraine – comprising the Luhansk and Donetsk regions – indicate a subtle change in momentum in the war, which is now in its fourth month.
Russia’s advance has raised fears that residents could face the same horrors seen in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, which suffered a three-month siege before falling last week.
Russian artillery was also pounding the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must use to close off a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces, and police said there was “significant destruction” in Lysychansk.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops and allied separatist forces had full control of the town of Lyman, the site of a railway junction west of the Siverskiy Donets River in Donetsk. However, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the battle for Lyman continues.
Control of Lyman would give the Russian military another foothold in the region. It has bridges for troops and equipment to cross the Siverskiy Donets River, which has so far hampered the Russian advance into Donbass.
Severodonetsk lies 60 km (37 miles) from Lyman on the east side of the river and is the largest city in the Donbass still held by Ukraine.
“Nothing to Fight Back”
Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak reiterated his call for long-range American-made multiple rocket launchers.
“It’s hard to fight when you’re attacked from 70 km away and you have nothing to fight back… We need effective weapons,” Podolyak posted on Twitter.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoliy Antonov said on Saturday such a move would be “unacceptable” and urged the White House to “drop statements about Ukraine’s military victory.”
Having failed to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv at the start of the three-month war, the Russians set out to seize parts of the eastern industrial region of Donbass not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists .
Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and rid it of nationalists who threaten Russian speakers there. Ukraine and Western countries say that Russia’s claims are a false pretext for a war of aggression.
Thousands of people, many of them civilians, have been killed and several million have fled their homes, either to safer parts of Ukraine or to other countries.