- Russian troops are slowly advancing into the city center of Severodonetsk
- Thousands of civilians trapped in Severodonetsk
- EU out of trouble over Russian oil embargo
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces were holding out in Severodonetsk on Tuesday, resisting an all-out Russian offensive to seize a wasteland that Moscow has made the main target of its invasion in recent days.
Both sides said Russian forces now control between a third and a half of the city. Russia’s separatist proxies admitted that its capture took longer than expected, despite one of the largest ground offensives of the war.
Western military analysts say Moscow has drained manpower and firepower from the rest of the front to focus on Severodonetsk, hoping that a large-scale attack on the small industrial city would achieve what Russia might call a victory in one of its stated goals in the east.
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“We can already say that a third of the Severodonetsk region is already under our control,” Leonid Bashnik, leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying.
He said that fighting was raging in the city, but that Russian forces did not advance as quickly as had been hoped, claiming that the pro-Moscow forces wanted to “preserve the city’s infrastructure” and were moving slowly out of caution around chemical plants.
The head of the Ukrainian city administration, Oleksandr Stryuk, said that the Russians now control half of the city.
“Unfortunately…the city was split in half. But at the same time the city is still defending itself. It’s still Ukrainian,” he said, advising those still trapped inside to stay in the cellars.
Ukraine says Russia has destroyed all of the city’s vital infrastructure with relentless bombing, followed by wave after wave of mass ground offensives that have claimed huge numbers of casualties.
Thousands of residents are still trapped. The Russian forces are advancing towards the city center, but slowly, and have not succeeded in encircling the holding Ukrainian defenders there.
The region’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, told Ukrainian television that there did not appear to be a danger of the Ukrainian forces being surrounded, although they might eventually have to retreat across the Seversky Donets River to the twin city of Lysekhansk on the opposite bank.
The evacuation of civilians is no longer possible, said Stryuk, head of the city administration. Authorities have called off efforts to evacuate residents after Monday’s attack that killed a French journalist.
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s long-running relief agency from Severodonetsk, said he was “terrified” it would be destroyed.
“We fear that up to 12,000 civilians will remain trapped in the crossfire of the city, with no access to water, food, medicine or electricity. The near-constant bombing forces civilians to seek shelters and bomb cellars, with only few chances for those trying to escape” .
Elsewhere on the battlefield, there were few reports of major action on Tuesday. In the east, Ukraine says Moscow is trying to attack other areas along the main front, including pressing towards the city of Solvyansk. In the south, Ukraine has claimed in recent days that it has repelled Russian forces on the bank of the Inholets River that forms the border of the Russian-controlled Kherson Province.
Having failed to capture Kyiv, was driven out of northern Ukraine and made only limited progress elsewhere in the east, Moscow concentrated its entire armed force in recent days on Severodonetsk, which had a pre-war population of about 110,000.
A victory there and in the neighboring city of Lysekhansk would allow Moscow to take control of Luhansk Province, one of two eastern regions it claims on behalf of separatist proxies, partially achieving one of President Vladimir Putin’s stated war goals.
But the massive battle came at a huge cost, which some Western military experts say could harm Russia’s ability to eventually fend off Ukrainian counterattacks elsewhere, regardless of who wins the Battle of Severodonetsk.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War believes that “Putin is now throwing men and munitions at the last remaining major population center in (Luhansk), in Severodonetsk, as if taking it would win the war on the Kremlin. He is wrong.” Tank books this week.
“When the battle of Severodonetsk ends, regardless of which side controls the city, the Russian offensive on the operational and strategic levels will likely have reached its climax, giving Ukraine the opportunity to resume its counterattacks at the operational level to push the Russian forces back.”
The European Union on Monday approved its toughest sanctions against Russia since the war began, targeting for the first time sales of Russian oil, by far Moscow’s main source of revenue.
The European Union will now ban the import of Russian oil by sea. That will stop two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports to Europe at once, and 90 percent by the end of this year, as Germany and Poland gradually reduce imports via pipelines, officials said. Read more
Hungary, which relies on Russian oil via a massive Soviet-era pipeline, got an exception, although EU officials said they expected it to be “temporary”. Read more
Ukraine says sanctions are taking too long and still full of loopholes to block Russia: “If you ask me, I would say it’s too slow, too late and definitely not enough,” said Ihor Zhovkva, Vice President Volodymyr. Zelensky’s office.
Meanwhile, Moscow has halted gas supplies to several EU countries over a row over how to receive payments, although moves so far, during warm months when demand is lower, have not had the biggest impact so far. Russia on Tuesday shut down its main Dutch gas buyer, Gastera, which said it would find supplies elsewhere. Read more
Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February, claiming that Moscow aimed to disarm and “discredit” its neighbor. Ukraine and its Western allies describe this as a baseless excuse to launch a war for territorial control.
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Simon Cameron Moore and Peter Graf; Editing by Stephen Coates and Alison Williams
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