Ukraine special forces remained in Sievierodonetsk, directing artillery fire against Russian-backed forces, an adviser to the Ukrainian president said, after the city fell into a major setback for Kiev as it struggles to maintain control of the east of the country.
Ukrainian shelling on Saturday forced Russian troops to suspend the evacuation of people from a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk just hours after Moscow’s troops took the city, Tass news agency quoted local police as saying.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk, after weeks of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting, is Ukraine’s worst defeat since it lost control of the southern port of Mariupol in May.
Ukraine called its withdrawal from the city a “tactical withdrawal” to fight from higher ground in Lysychansk across the Siverskyi Donets River. Pro-Russian separatists said Moscow’s troops are now attacking Lysychansk.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk – once home to more than 100,000 people but now a wasteland – is transforming the battlefield to the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.
Russia will now try to push ahead and gain more ground on the other side, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to take the ruins of the small city leaves Russian forces vulnerable to a counter-attack.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed in a video speech that Ukraine would reclaim lost cities, including Sievierodonetsk. But acknowledging the emotional toll of the war, he said: “We have no idea how long it will take, how much more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory ahead.”
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out “a tactical regrouping” by withdrawing its troops from Sievierodonetsk.
“Russia is using the tactic… that it used in Mariupol: to wipe the city off the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the circumstances, it is no longer possible to hold the defenses in the ruins and open fields. So the Ukrainian troops are moving to higher ground to continue the defense operations.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said that “as a result of successful offensive operations” Russian forces had gained full control of Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.
Oleksiy Arestovych, Zelenskiy’s senior adviser, said some Ukrainian special forces were still in Sievierodonetsk, directing artillery fire on the Russians. But he made no mention of those forces that immediately resisted.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters as saying that Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and fought in urban areas there.
Rockets RAIN DOWN
Russia also launched rocket attacks on Ukraine on Saturday. At least three people were killed and others may have been buried in the rubble in the town of Sarny, some 185 miles (300 km) west of Kiev, after rockets hit a car wash and a car repair shop, the chief of the local regional army said. . administration.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Kiev and the West say Russian troops have committed war crimes against civilians.
Russian missiles also hit elsewhere overnight. “48 cruise missiles. ‘at night. All over Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, spread panic.”
Top Ukrainian general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote in the Telegram app that the newly arrived US-supplied advanced HIMARS missile systems were now deployed, hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
In an effort to further tighten Russia, US President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders attending a summit in Germany on Sunday will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter to Reuters.
Britain is ready to guarantee an additional $525 million in World Bank loans to Ukraine later this year, bringing total fiscal support this year to $1.5 billion, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ahead of the G7 meeting.
“Ukraine can win and it will win. But for that they need our support. This is not the time to give up Ukraine,” Johnson said in a statement on Saturday.
‘IT WAS HORROR’
In the Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk in Donbas, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was one of dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.
“Lysychansk, it was an abomination, last week. Yesterday we couldn’t take it anymore,” she said. “I already told my husband that if I die, please bury me behind the house.”
Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War II has entered its fifth month after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops across the border on February 24, unleashing a conflict that left thousands dead and millions displaced. It has also created an energy and food crisis that is shaking the global economy.
Since Russian forces were defeated in an attack on the capital Kiev in March, the focus has shifted to the Donbas, an eastern region comprising the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk.
Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has supported uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. It demands that Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.