Home WorldEurope A pivotal showdown looms in eastern Ukraine as more towns fall to Russia.

A pivotal showdown looms in eastern Ukraine as more towns fall to Russia.

by YAR

Approaching a pivotal moment in their invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces have tightened their vise around two key eastern cities, raising the risk that their slow and brutal advance will capture the cities and trap the Ukrainian troops defending them.

The fall of the two neighboring cities, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, would almost complete Russia’s conquest of Luhansk province, a major part of the Donbas region that the Russians are trying to seize in the four-month war. That would give President Vladimir V. Putin a strategic and symbolic victory and open avenues for the Russian military to push deeper into Ukraine.

The Russians have captured three villages further south of the cities, moving them within easier artillery range of Lysychansk, where Ukrainian forces are digging into high ground for what could be a pitched battle for the city. Moscow forces already control most of Sievierodonetsk to the east, which lies on lower ground and has been reduced to ruins by Russian bombardment.

“Russian forces are closing in on Lysychansk,” Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s regional administrator, warned Wednesday on Telegram, the messaging app, confirming the capture of the Mirna Dolina, Pidlisne and Toshkivka villages.

After failing to seize Ukraine’s two largest cities, Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, early in the war, Putin shifted his focus to Donbas, the eastern region that is Ukraine’s industrial heartland, where separatists backed by Russia have waged war since 2014. The invasion has been much more difficult for Russian forces, who have suffered setbacks and heavy losses, as have the Ukrainians, and Western analysts say Putin is eager for something he might call success.

For the Ukrainians, the main short-term concern is Russian artillery getting close enough to make it difficult for them to use a road that runs southwest of Lysychansk and is the main supply line and evacuation route for Ukrainian forces and civilians. in the city, which has been mostly emptied of its pre-war population of around 100,000.

That raises the possibility that the Ukrainian fighters defending Lysychansk could be surrounded and cut off. Ukrainian fighters in the port of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov were surrounded for weeks before surrendering in early May.

The battle around Sievierodonetsk, which has raged for weeks, turned more dire for Ukrainians on Sunday, when Russian troops stormed a key defensive position at Toshkivka, prompting Ukrainian forces to send reinforcements to the area.

Ukrainian forces still control all of Lysychansk, but in Sievierodonetsk, across the Siversky Donets River, they only control a chemical plant where civilians are also reported to be sheltering, Haidai said Monday.

In addition to Luhansk province, the Russians control about half of Donetsk province and are pushing from the east, north and south to seize more territory. But analysts say Russia’s battered forces face an even tougher battle to seize more of Donetsk.

A British military intelligence report It said on Wednesday that Moscow-backed separatist forces in Donetsk had reported more than 2,000 of its staff killed this year and nearly 9,000 wounded. Those figures amounted to 55 percent of his original strength, the British assessment said, which “highlights the extraordinary attrition that Russian and pro-Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas.”

Ukrainian forces have also suffered heavy casualties and are increasingly relying on poorly trained units to hold parts of the eastern front line.

For both Russia and Ukraine, “the ability to generate and deploy reserve units to the front is likely to become increasingly critical to the outcome of the war.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a late-night address that his country’s military, with the help of “tactical moves,” was strengthening its defense in Lugansk, a possible reference to the arrival of longer-range artillery supplied by the United States and some European countries. governments But he acknowledged that Luhansk was “really the most difficult area at the moment”.

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