The eastern Ukrainian city of Sieverodonetsk (Severodonetsk), which has for weeks now been a central focus of the Russian military, is on the verge of falling to the Kremlin’s forces. As of today, reports indicate that the final Ukrainian forces fighting in the city have been ordered to withdraw, while the fate of the neighboring city of Lysychansk is also starting to look increasingly precarious.
Sieverodonetsk has been the scene of fierce fighting, including extensive Russian artillery bombardment. At this point, however, it seems the Ukrainian authorities have decided that a continued defense of the city is not worthwhile, as Russian forces threaten to encircle it. Meanwhile, the pre-war civilian population of Sieverodonetsk is thought to have been reduced from 160,000 to just 12,000 after evacuations.
“The situation right now is as such that staying at these destroyed positions just for the sake of being there doesn’t make sense,” said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. He confirmed that Ukrainian troops had received orders to “retreat to new positions and continue fighting there.”
After extensive street fighting in Sieverodonetsk, the last Ukrainian forces were apparently defending the city from industrial areas, paralleling what previously happened ahead of the fall of the southern city of Mariupol.
Oleksandr Striuk, mayor of Sieverodonetsk, told AP that the Russian forces had been engaged in a “frenzied push,” supported by heavy artillery bombardments, which had left at least half of the city under their control.
Exactly how much longer there will be resistance in the beleaguered city is unclear, but there are fears of a looming humanitarian crisis here after major bridges that provide access to the west were destroyed. These three bridges that cross the Siverskyi Donets River also provide a connection to nearby Lysychansk. Local officials say that 90 percent of the city has been damaged to some degree, with all critical infrastructure currently out of action.
Lysychansk, meanwhile, may well be the next eastern Ukrainian city in the Kremlin’s sights, with reports that Russian forces are now moving toward it from Zolote and Toshkivka. governor Haidai added that Ukrainian troops had repulsed some Russian advances on the outskirts of Lysychansk, but these were apparently Russian reconnaissance units rather than the main thrust.
As it stands, Lysychansk is the last major Ukrainian-held city in the Luhansk province, and capturing it would be a significant boost for the Kremlin, which would be left with de facto control of the region.
While the Ukrainians suffered heavy losses in their defense of Sieverodonetsk, this may ultimately have been enough to at least continue to wear down the Russian invasion force and to inflict further attrition here. That, in turn, would pile more pressure on the Russian logistics network and require more soldiers and equipment to be moved in to support the offensive centered on Lysychansk, where the local geography could favor the defenders:
As for the conflict at large, there have been suggestions that Ukraine’s tactics of attempting to stall the Russian offensive in the Donbas, despite being heavily outnumbered, could be part of a longer-term plan.
“Russian offensive operations will likely stall in the coming weeks, whether or not Russian forces capture the Sievierodonetsk-Lysychansk area, likely granting Ukrainian forces the opportunity to launch prudent counteroffensives,” the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has predicted. The institute has argued that the Kremlin’s fixation on Sievierodonetsk could ultimately be counter-productive, as the Russian forces sustain more losses in terms of troops and materiel.
Overall, however, developments in the Luhansk province again demonstrate the degree to which the Kremlin is now focusing its efforts on the Donbas after having tried and failed to take the Ukrainian capital earlier in the conflict. While the capture of Sievierodonetsk-Lysychansk would put almost all of the Luhansk in Russian hands, that would still leave around half of the wider Donbas region under Ukrainian control.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
Before getting into the rest of the latest news below, The War Zone readers can first get themselves up to speed on the existing state of the conflict in Ukraine through our preceding rolling coverage here.
POSTED: 1:00 PM EST—
While so far unclear if directly related to the war in Ukraine or not, the Russian Aerospace Forces, or VKS, was struck a blow this morning with the crash of one of its four-engine Il-76MD Candid transport aircraft. Reuters reports that the airlifter was landing at Ryazan Air Base in western Russia when it caught fire. The aircraft had apparently been flying from Orenburg to Belgorod and was making a refueling stop In Ryazan.
The Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Ministry of Defense as saying the Il-76 suffered an engine malfunction during on a training flight. However, these aircraft have, in the past, been used in support of the war in Ukraine, bringing supplies to forward air bases in western Russia and even reportedly taking part in a failed airborne assault on Kyiv at the start of the war.
There are reports that a senior figure in one of the Russian-installed administrations in occupied southern Ukraine has been assassinated. According to the deputy head of the Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, a bomb blast today killed Dmitry Savluchenko, head of the families, youth, and sports department of that organization.
Details remain scarce, but the Russian TASS news agency reported two burnt-out cars in a courtyard in Kherson, as well as windows knocked out of a nearby four-story building. An adviser to the Ukrainian governor of Kherson described the assassination as a successful partisan operation conducted on behalf of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Russia took control of the Kherson region early in the conflict and there have since been regular civilian protests as well as reports of increasing partisan activity. This has apparently targeted both officials within the Russian-installed administration as well as soldiers from the occupying Russian forces.
The Ukrainian Air Force reportedly remains active, especially with regard to air-to-ground missions. According to the latest briefing from the Centre for Defence Strategies (CDS), a Ukrainian security think tank, Ukrainian Su-24M Fencer strike aircraft and Su-25 Frogfoot close air support aircraft flew around two dozen airstrikes against advancing Russian units south of Lysychansk, yesterday.
Video has appeared that seems to show, for the first time, the recently delivered M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, in action in Ukraine. Although the date and location are unclear, multiple accounts on social media claim that the two Ukrainian HIMARS seen in the footage are engaging Russian targets with their rockets. Ukraine confirmed yesterday that it had begun to receive HIMARS, when Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted: “Thank you to my U.S. colleague and friend Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for these powerful tools! Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them.”