KYIV: Russian forces have seized full control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, both sides said, confirming Kyiv’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month following weeks of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting.
Ukraine called its retreat 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 yesterday that Moscow’s forces were now attacking Lysychansk.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk – once home to more than 100,000 people but now a wasteland – was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield in the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.
Russia will now be hoping to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of the small city will leave Russia’s forces vulnerable to a counter-attack in coming weeks.
“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia. They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some kind of commandant,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television.
Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said that Ukraine was carrying out ‘a tactical regrouping’ by pulling its forces out of Sievierodonetsk.
“Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the conditions, holding the defence in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defence operations.”
Russia’s defence ministry said ‘as a result of successful offensive operations’ Russian forces had established full control over Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.
Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and were fighting in urban areas there.
Seeking to further tighten the screws on Russia, US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders attending a summit in Germany starting today will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia, a source said.
In the Ukrainian-held Donbas 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, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more,” she said. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house.”
As Europe’s biggest land conflict since the Second World War entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on February 24, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also stoked an energy and food crisis which is shaking the global economy.