Russian forces seized full control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk yesterday, 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 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 counterattack 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, told Reuters 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 familiar with the matter told Reuters.
As Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War Two entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.
The capture of Sievierodonetsk is likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.
Ukrainian officials had never held out much hope of holding Sievierodonetsk indefinitely, but have hoped to exact a high enough price to exhaust the Russian army.
Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app that newly arrived, US-supplied advanced HIMARS rocket systems were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. Asked about a potential counterattack in the south, Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine should begin to see results “from August”.
Russian missiles also struck elsewhere overnight.
In the north the governor of the Zhytomyr region 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 yesterday.
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