- Russian forces advance east, changing momentum
- Capturing Lyman would set the stage for the next phase of the offensive
- Sievierodonetsk under attack
KYIV, May 28 (Reuters) – Russian forces attacked the Ukrainian town of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday after claiming to have captured the nearby Lyman rail hub as Moscow continued its offensive in eastern Donbass.
Russian gains in recent days signal a change in momentum in the war, which is now in its fourth month. The invading forces appear poised to seize the entire Lugansk region of the Donbass, a primary Kremlin war target, despite Ukrainian resistance.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its troops and allied separatist forces now fully control Lyman, the site of a railway junction and located west of the Siversky Donets River in the Donetsk region neighboring Luhansk.
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However, Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said the battle for Lyman continues, the ZN.ua website reported.
Russian forces are likely to attempt to cross the river in the coming days in the next phase of the Kremlin offensive in the Donbass, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence report on Saturday.
Sievierodonetsk, about 60 km (40 miles) from Lyman on the east bank of the river and the largest city in the Donbass still held by Ukraine, is now under heavy Russian assault.
“Sievierodonetsk is under constant enemy fire,” Ukrainian police said in a social media post on Saturday.
Russian artillery was also shelling the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must use to close a pincer movement and encircle the Ukrainian forces.
“There was significant destruction in Lysychansk,” police said.
The governor of Luhansk, which together with Donetsk forms Donbass, said on Friday that Russian troops had already entered Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from the city to avoid capture, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Russian forces are making slow but steady progress in Donbass – much of which was already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists before the war – after failing to capture the capital Kyiv shortly after their February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Their tactics involve massive artillery bombardments and airstrikes that have devastated towns and villages.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had repelled eight assaults in Donetsk and Lugansk in the past 24 hours. Russia’s attacks included artillery assaults in the Sievierodonetsk region, he added.
“If Russia succeeded in gaining control of these areas, it would most likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantial political achievement and presented to the Russian people as justification for the invasion,” according to the British intelligence report.
About 90% of buildings in Sievierodonetsk were damaged, Gaidai said, with 14 high-rise buildings destroyed in the latest bombardment. Several dozen medical staff were staying in Sievierodonetsk, but they had difficulty getting to hospitals because of the shelling, the governor of Luhansk said.
Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remained defiant in his nightly address to Ukrainians.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskiy said.
Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said that if Russian forces began direct assaults on built-up areas in Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to gain ground in the city it -same.
“Russian forces performed poorly in built-up urban terrain operations throughout the war,” they said.
Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and rid it of nationalists who threaten Russian speakers. Kyiv and Western countries say Russia’s claims are a false pretext for war.
Thousands of people, many of them civilians, were killed and millions fled their homes during the war. Russia’s destruction of entire urban areas has drawn widespread international condemnation, although Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been deterred by a wide range of Western sanctions against Russia, nor by past setbacks on the battlefield.
Russia’s gains in the east follow the withdrawal of its forces from the approaches to Kyiv and a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed its forces back from Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv.
The Ukrainian General Staff said on Saturday that several Russian strikes hit nearby communities and infrastructure near Kharkiv.
On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal could be reached by Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, accounting for around 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not by sea. pipeline. Read more
Zelenskiy criticized the EU for delaying such a ban.
But his country also received a steady supply of arms from the allies. In the last such delivery, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday that Ukraine had started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States. Read more
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Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters reporters in Popasna Writing by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan Editing by William Mallard and Frances Kerry
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