Ukrainian forces pulled back to the outskirts of the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday in the face of a fierce Russian assault, the regional governor said, another big swing in momentum in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Russia has concentrated its troops and firepower on the small eastern city in recent weeks to secure the surrounding province on behalf of separatist proxies. Ukraine has vowed to fight there for as long as possible, saying the battle could help shape the war’s future course.
After announcing a surprise counter-attack last week, the governor of the surrounding Luhansk region said on Wednesday afternoon that most of the city was again in Russian hands.
“…Our (forces) now again control only the outskirts of the city. But the fighting is still going on,” Serhiy Gaidai told the RBC-Ukraine media outlet.
Ukrainian forces still controlled all of the smaller twin city Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River but Russian forces were causing huge destruction to residential buildings there, he said in an online post.
Russian forces have 10 times more equipment than Ukrainian troops in some areas of Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said. Ukraine has urged its Western allies to speed up delivery of arms, saying the situation would become very difficult for the country if Russia broke through its lines in the east.
“The path to peace lies through heavy weapons,” Ukrainian negotiator and presidential advisor Mikhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, reiterating warnings that war could spread to the European Union if Russia was not defeated in Ukraine.
Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground in Sieverodonetsk.
Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and its allies say Moscow has launched an unprovoked war of aggression, killing thousands of civilians and flattening cities. United Nations figures show more than 7 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.