Russian troops took control of Severodonetsk, one of the last holdouts in the breakaway eastern region of Luhansk, on Saturday — even as Western intelligence agencies predicted that the invader’s military will soon exhaust its combat capabilities and be forced to halt its offensive.
Hundreds of civilians were believed to remain trapped in underground bunkers a chemical plant on the city’s edge, with the only way out through Russian controlled territory. Shells continued to pound the plant Saturday, the Kyiv Independent reported, citing the regional governor, Serhiy Haidai. Estimates put the number of people sheltering in the plants sprawling underground between 500 to 800.
“The Russians have fully occupied Severodonetsk, our military has retreated to more prepared positions,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian TV, the BBC reported.
Prior to the war, Severodonetsk had about 100,000 residents. Fewer than 10,000 are thought to remain in the now battered city, left in ruins by weeks of shelling. All bridges to the city have been destroyed by Russian troops, along with most of the city’s infrastructure.
Ukraine’s military began withdrawing from the area Friday after seeing severe losses in recent weeks.
Separately, Ukrainian officials said multiple cities across the country were hit by a rain of Russian missiles, including an overnight airstrike that was launched from Belarus, Russia’s ally. “According to Ukraine’s defense intelligence, it was the first airstrike on Ukraine conducted directly from the territory of Belarus, and Russia’s ‘provocation’ to draw Belarus into its war against Ukraine,” the Kyiv Independent said.
The missiles from Belarus hit targets across Ukraine. Russian missiles were also fired from the Black Sea off Ukraine’s southern border, hitting military installations in the western part of Ukraine, near Lviv.
Meanwhile, separatists forces allied with Russia army said they moved into parts of Lysychansk, the “twin city” of Severodonetsk on the other side of the Donetsk River, and now the last city in the eastern Luhansk region still standing against the invasion. That’s a key development because Putin has justified the invasion with claims that he is protecting the people of Luhansk — a mainly Russian-speaking region where Kremlin-backed fighting has been ongoing since 2014 — from genocide.
Together with the Donetsk province, it makes up the area called the Donbas, which Putin claimed as Russian territory as the invasion began.
Chatter on Russian Telegram channels and statements from Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Anna Malyar, suggested the Russian military is under pressure to bring all of Luhansk under its control by Sunday.
The UK Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian troop reconfiguring came as “Russian armored units continue to make creeping gains on the southern edge” of the area.
But those creeping advances depend almost completely on spending vast amounts of artillery shells and other ammunition, which are being fired at a rate no military could sustain for long, a senior Western official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, told the Washington Post. At the same time, Russia is suffering heavy losses of equipment and men, raising questions about how much longer it can sustain the attack.
“There will come a time when the tiny advances Russia is making become unsustainable in light of the costs and they will need a significant pause to regenerate capability,” the official said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, citing intelligence assessments, said in a recent interview that Russia would be able to continue to fight on only for the “next few months.” After that, “Russia could come to a point when there is no longer any forward momentum because it has exhausted its resources,” he told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Separately, Russia claimed its troops have killed up to 80 Polish fighters in the Donetsk region, The Telegraph reported.
“Up to 80 Polish mercenaries, 20 armoured combat vehicles and eight Grad multiple rocket launchers were destroyed in precision strikes on the Megatex zinc factory in Konstantinovka” in the Donetsk region, it quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying in a statement, which could not be independently verified. It did not say when the strike took place.
While Ukranian troops were exiting some areas, the country has already deployed US-supplied HIMARS rocket systems against targets in Russian-occupied sectors, the country’s top general said on Saturday.
“Artillerymen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine skillfully hit certain targets – military targets of the enemy on our, Ukrainian, territory,” Chief of Ukraine’s General Staff Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app.
Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted a thanks to the US for the weapons. “We’re grateful to [The US president] and the American people for the decision to provide another $450 million defense aid package to Ukraine,” he wrote. “This support, including additional HIMARS, is now more important than ever. By joint efforts we will free Ukrainian land from the Russian aggressor!”
With Post Wires