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Luhansk governor says Russia now controls 70% of Sievierodonetsk

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Luhansk governor says Russia now controls 70% of Sievierodonetsk

Fighting continues in key eastern city as Volodymyr Zelenskiy says up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers dying each day
Sievierodonetsk
Russian forces now control more than two-thirds of the key eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, as Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, conceded that Kyiv’s forces were suffering up to 100 deaths and 500 wounded every day.
With fierce street fighting in Sievierodonetsk, western officials suggested that the city of Sloviansk was the likely next target for a Russian advance that has made gains in the past two weeks, even as the Biden administration in the US announced it was sending advanced rocket systems to Kyiv.
Confirming the latest gains in Sievierodonetsk, a strategically important city in Ukraine’s east, the Luhansk regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, said on Wednesday that Russia controlled 70% of the city.
“Unfortunately, today, Russian troops control most of the city,” said Haidai. “Some Ukrainian troops have retreated to more advantageous, pre-prepared positions.”
Haidai also said “quite a few” civilians were sheltering in Soviet-era bomb shelters under a chemical plant in the city, although he said the complex was not likely to become the site of a prolonged siege similar to that of the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol.
Ukraine said on Tuesday that Russian forces had struck a tank containing nitric acid at a Sievierodonetsk chemical plant.
The high levels of attrition on the Ukrainian side, whose defenders have been pounded by Russian shelling, was conceded by Zelenskiy in an interview with the US Newsmax TV channel. “The situation is very difficult; we’re losing 60-100 soldiers per day as killed in action and something around 500 people as wounded in action. So we are holding our defensive perimeters,” he said.
Joe Biden announced the supply of advanced rocket systems, called Himars, and munitions that could strike with precision at long-range Russian targets as part of a $700m (£560m) weapons package expected to be unveiled on Wednesday.
“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” the US president wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces continued to hit northern, southern and eastern districts of the city of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk, one of two provinces in the eastern Donbas region that Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
If Russia captures Sievierodonetsk, and its smaller twin Lysychansk on the higher west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, it will hold all of Luhansk, a key war aim of Vladimir Putin’s forces.
The update added that Russian forces were regrouping and strengthening their positions in preparation for launching a renewed attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk in Donetsk. Russian forces currently occupy Izium, a city north of Sloviansk.
The expected Ukrainian loss of Sievierdonetsk, however, “is unlikely to be the crux” of Russia’s Donbas campaign, a western official said, adding that the war that could now grind on “to the end of the year” given the slow rate of Moscow’s advance.
The average gain of Russian forces in Popansa south of Sievierdonetsk has “averaged between 500 metres and one kilometre” a day in the last month, the official added, meaning capturing the remainder of the Donetsk region in the Donbas would take months more at least.
Russia would have to achieve “further challenging operational objectives” to declare victory on the Kremlin’s now reduced campaign terms, the official said.
That would require taking the city of Kramatorsk, and more of the M04 main road between the Ukrainian-held city of Dnipro and the Russian-held city of Donetsk, they added, and more rivers would have to be crossed in the process.
“Although we see Russia is starting to learn from its mistakes and make advances in the Donbas, I think it’s important to stress that the battle for Sievierodonetsk is unlikely to be the kind of the crux of the Donetsk campaign” the official said in a briefing.
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The latest fighting in the east came amid predictions from some analysts that Russia may be overstretched in other areas, including around Kherson.
In its daily update, the US-based Institute for the Study of War noted: “Moscow’s concentration on seizing Sievierodonetsk and Donbas generally continues to create vulnerabilities for Russia in Ukraine’s vital Kherson oblast, where Ukrainian counteroffensives continue.
“Kherson is critical terrain because it is the only area of Ukraine in which Russian forces hold ground on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
“If Russia is able to retain a strong lodgement in Kherson when fighting stops, it will be in a very strong position from which to launch a future invasion. If Ukraine regains Kherson, on the other hand, Ukraine will be in a much stronger position to defend itself against future Russian attack.”
However, a recent limited Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kherson appears to have had only limited success so far. An official in southern Ukraine said Russian troops were retreating and blowing up bridges to obstruct a possible Ukrainian advance.
Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on Tuesday that Ukrainian fighters had seen “some success in the Kherson direction”.
Russia is concentrating most of its military power on trying to capture all of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Franz-Stefan Gady, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, also cautioned over how much impact the newly announced US rocket systems might have on the balance of the fighting and how quickly they could be effectively deployed.