Sievierodonetsk falls to Russia after one of the bloodiest battles of the war

  • Capture of Sievierodonetsk big win for Russia
  • Ukraine says it is carrying out a “tactical withdrawal”
  • Dozens of missiles hit Ukrainian military bases

KYIV/POKROVSK, Ukraine, June 25 (Reuters) – Russian forces have fully occupied Sievierodonetsk, the mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city said on Saturday, confirming Kyiv’s biggest battlefield setback since more than a month after weeks of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. .

Ukraine called its withdrawal from the city a “tactical withdrawal” to fight from higher ground in Lysychansk, on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets River. Pro-Russian separatists said forces from Moscow were now attacking Lysychansk.

The fall of Sievierodonetsk – once home to more than 100,000 people, now a desert – was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield to the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge firepower advantage had produced only slow gains.

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Russia now hopes to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine hopes that the price paid by Moscow to capture the ruins of the small town will leave Russian forces vulnerable to a counterattack in the coming weeks.

“The city is now under total Russian occupation. They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some sort of commander,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told state television.

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out a “tactical regrouping” by withdrawing its forces from Sievierodonetsk to higher ground across the river.

“Russia is using the tactic…it used in Mariupol: to wipe the city off the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the conditions, maintaining defense in ruins and open fields is no longer possible. Ukrainian forces are therefore moving to higher ground to continue defense operations.”

Russian news agency Interfax quoted a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters as saying Russian and pro-Russian forces entered Lysychansk across the river and fighting was taking place in urban areas.

“IT WAS HORROR”

In the Ukrainian Donbass town of Pokrovsk, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.

“Lysychansk was horrible last week. Yesterday we couldn’t take it anymore. Thanks to the soldiers who evacuated us from there. Otherwise it would have been that,” she said. “I already told my husband that if I died, please bury me behind the house.”

As Europe’s biggest ground conflict since World War II entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on the west, north and south of the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops across the border on February 24, sparking a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also fueled an energy and food crisis that is shaking the global economy.

Since Russian forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, they have focused on Donbass, an eastern territory made up of the provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk. Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian strongholds in Lugansk.

The Russians have crossed the river in force in recent days and advanced towards Lysychansk, threatening to surround the Ukrainians in the area.

The capture of Sievierodonetsk is likely to be seen by Russia as vindication for its move from its failed first attempt at a “lightning war” to a relentless and relentless offensive using massive artillery in the east.

Moscow claims that Lugansk and Donetsk, where it has supported uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. He asks Ukraine to cede the entire territory of the two provinces to the separatist administrations.

Ukrainian officials had never had much hope of holding Sievierodonetsk indefinitely, but hoped to exact a price high enough to wear down the Russian army and leave the invading force vulnerable to counterattack.

Ukrainian Chief General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app on Saturday that newly arrived advanced HIMARS rocket systems supplied by the United States were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. Read more

Asked about a possible counterattack in the south, Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said Ukraine should start seeing results “from August”.

“Wait a bit and we’ll see what it brings,” he told Reuters.

Russian missiles also struck elsewhere across Ukraine overnight in an unusually large volley.

“48 cruise missiles. Overnight. Across Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is always trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic and scare people.”

The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine said six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at a base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target but two were destroyed.

In the north, the Zhytomyr region governor said strikes on a military target killed at least one soldier. In the south, the mayor of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, said five cruise missiles hit the city and nearby areas on Saturday.

Russia denies targeting civilians. Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.

WESTERN SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE

Despite setbacks on the battlefield, Kyiv has won support from the West, which has imposed sanctions on Russia and is sending weapons to Ukraine.

The war had a huge impact on the global economy and European security arrangements, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy reliance on energy Russia and encouraging Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership.

Leaders of wealthy Group of Seven democracies are expected to demonstrate their long-term support for Ukraine and discuss how to get tough on Russia at a three-day summit in Germany starting on Sunday. Read more

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will attend, said he feared Ukraine would come under pressure to strike a peace deal, and that the consequences of Putin’s attempt in Ukraine would be dangerous for international security. Read more

In a major sign of support, European Union leaders this week endorsed Ukraine’s formal bid to join the bloc – a move that Russia said on Friday amounted to the EU’s “subjugation” of neighboring countries. Read more

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Additional reporting by Max Hunder, Alessandra Prentice and Reuters bureaus; Written by Michael Perry, Madeline Chambers, Peter Graff; Editing by Sam Holmes, Edwina Gibbs, David Clarke, Peter Graff

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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