© Reuters. A view showing residential buildings damaged during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the town of Popasna in Luhansk region, Ukraine, May 27, 2022. Photo: Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters
By Natalia Zenets and Max Hunder
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces may have to withdraw from their last enclave in the Luhansk region to avoid being captured, a Ukrainian official said, as Russian forces press ahead with an advance in the east that has changed the dynamics of the three months. war.
The withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of occupying the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine. His forces are gaining ground in the two regions known together as Donbass while bombarding some towns in the wasteland.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said that Russian forces entered Severodonetsk, the largest Ukrainian-controlled city of Donbass, days after trying to seize Ukrainian forces there, but added that Russian forces not in the region would be able to occupy the Luhansk region “as analysts expected.”
“We will have sufficient strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that we will have to retreat to avoid being trapped.
Gaidai said 90% of buildings in Severodonetsk were damaged, with 14 high-rises destroyed in the recent bombing.
Speaking to Ukrainian television, Gaidai said that about 10,000 Russian soldiers are stationed in the region and “are trying to make gains in every possible direction.”
He said that dozens of medical workers remained in Severodonetsk, but that because of the bombing they had difficulty getting only to hospitals.
Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine protects its country “as far as our current defense resources allow.” The Ukrainian military said it repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armored vehicles.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are mistaken. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” Zelensky said in a speech.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces repelled eight attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the past 24 hours. She added that the attacks launched by Russia included artillery shelling of the Severodonetsk region “without success.”
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said that while Russian forces have launched direct attacks on built-up areas of Severodonetsk, they will likely struggle to gain a foothold in the city itself.
“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in urban, built-up areas throughout the war,” they said.
Russian forces advanced after breaching Ukrainian lines in the town of Popasna, south of Severodonetsk, last week. The British Ministry of Defense said that Russian ground forces had taken control of several villages northwest of Popasna.
Reuters reporters called in Russian-controlled territory on Thursday, and Popasna was in ruins. In the yard was the swollen corpse of a dead man in combat uniform.
Resident Natalia Kovalenko had left the basement, where she was hiding under the rubble of her apartment, from which the windows and balcony were shattered. She said a shell hit the yard, killing two people and wounding eight.
“We are tired of being so afraid,” she said.
Russia’s eastern advance follows the withdrawal of its forces from approaching the capital, Kyiv, and the Ukrainian counterattack that pushed its forces back from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days, killing nine people, Russian authorities said. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in its so-called “special military operation”.
On Saturday, the Ukrainian General Staff said that although there was no new attack on the city, several Russian strikes targeted nearby communities and infrastructure.
In the south, where Moscow has seized part of the territory since the invasion on February 24, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia aims for permanent rule.
fight to leave
The governor of the Ukrainian region told the media in the southern Kherson region, that Russian forces reinforced their defenses and bombed the areas under Ukrainian control. Another official said that Russian forces had bombed the city of Zelenodolsk.
On the diplomatic front, EU officials said a deal could be reached by Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, which accounts for about 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not via pipelines, a compromise to Hungary’s win and clearing the way. to new penalties.
Zelensky accused the EU of hesitating about a ban on Russian energy, saying the union was funding Russia’s war and that the delay “only means more Ukrainians are killed”.
In a phone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehamer, Putin stuck to his position that the global food crisis caused by the conflict could only be resolved if the West lifted sanctions.
Nahamer said Putin had expressed a desire to talk about a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, but added: “Whether he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question.”
Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters, and the Russian blockade of ports has halted shipments, driving up global prices. Russia accuses Ukraine of mining ports.
Russia justified its attack in part by saying that Ukraine would not join the US-led NATO military alliance. But the war prompted Sweden and Finland, both neutrals during the Cold War, to apply for NATO membership, ushering in one of the most significant shifts in European security in decades.