Ukrainian forces may have to pull out of their last pocket in the Luhansk region to avoid capture, a Ukrainian official said, while Russian troops press ahead with an advance in the east that has changed the dynamics of the three-month-old war.
A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of fully conquering eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions. His troops have been gaining ground in the two areas collectively known as Donbass while blasting some towns into wasteland.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Ukrainian-held Donbass city, after days of trying to capture Ukrainian forces there, but added that Russian forces were not in the would be able to conquer the Luhansk region “as analysts predicted”.
“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that we will have to retreat to avoid being surrounded,” Gaidai said on Telegram.
Gaidai said 90% of buildings in Sievierodonetsk were damaged, with 14 high-rise buildings destroyed in the latest shelling.
Speaking to Ukrainian television, Gaidai said about 10,000 Russian soldiers were stationed in the region and were “trying to make gains in every possible direction”.
He said several dozen medical personnel remained in Sievierodonetsk, but because of the shelling they were having difficulty getting only to the hospitals.
Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine is protecting its country “as far as our current defense resources allow.” Ukraine’s military said it repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armored vehicles.
“If the occupiers think they will own Lyman and Sievierodonetsk, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskyy said in a speech.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Saturday that Ukrainian forces repelled eight attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the previous 24 hours. Russia’s attacks included artillery strikes in the Sievierodonetsk area “unsuccessfully,” it said.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said while Russian forces had begun direct attacks on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to gain a foothold in the city itself.
“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war,” they said.
Russian troops advanced after breaching Ukrainian lines in the town of Popasna south of Sievierodonetsk last week. Russian ground forces have taken several villages north-west of Popasna, the British Ministry of Defense said.
Reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, Popasna lay in ruins. In a yard lay the bloated body of a dead man in combat uniform.
Resident Natalia Kovalenko had left the basement, where she was hiding in the rubble of her apartment, the window and balcony of which had been blown away. She said a shell hit the yard, killing two people and wounding eight.
“We’re tired of being so scared,” she said.
Russia’s eastern gains follow the withdrawal of its forces from approaches to the capital, Kyiv, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed its forces back from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days, killing nine people, authorities said. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in its so-called “special military operation.”
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Saturday that although there had been no fresh attack on the city, there had been several Russian strikes on nearby communities and infrastructure.
In the south, where Moscow has seized part of the territory since the February 24 invasion, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia is aiming for permanent rule.
FIGHT TO LEAVE
In the southern Kherson region, Russian forces reinforced defenses and shelled Ukrainian-controlled areas, the region’s Ukrainian governor told media. Another official said Russian troops shelled the city of Zelenodolsk.
On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said an agreement could be reached by Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, which accounts for about 75% of the bloc’s supplies, but not via pipelines, a compromise to Hungary win and clear the way for new sanctions.
Zelenskyy has accused the EU of vacillating over a ban on Russian energy, saying the bloc is funding Russia’s war and delay “just means more Ukrainians will be killed”.
In a phone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin stuck to his line that a global food crisis caused by the conflict could only be resolved if the West lifted sanctions.
Nehammer said Putin has expressed his willingness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine, but added: “Whether he’s really ready to negotiate is a complex question.”
Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters, and Russia’s blockade of ports has halted shipments, sending global prices higher. 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 has pushed Sweden and Finland, both neutral during the Cold War, to apply for NATO membership, prompting one of the most significant shifts in European security in decades.
https://nypost.com/2022/05/28/ukraine-says-russian-advances-could-force-retreat-in-part-of-east/ Ukraine says Russian advances could force a withdrawal in parts of the east