engaged in close combat in a town in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as supported by heavy bombardment, attempted to gain a strategic foothold to conquer the region in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian forces were “storming” Sievierodonetsk after unsuccessfully trying to encircle the city. The fighting knocked out electricity and mobile phone service, and a humanitarian relief center could not operate due to the danger, the mayor said.
Sievierodonetsk, located about 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of the Russian border, has emerged in recent days as the epicenter of Moscow’s quest to capture all of Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region. Russia also stepped up its efforts to take nearby Lysychansk, where civilians rushed to escape the persistent shelling.
The two cities are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in the province of Luhansk, which constitutes Donbass with neighboring Donetsk. Russia is focusing, after failing to seize the Ukrainian capital, on occupying parts of Donbass not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
Russian forces have made small advances in recent days as shelling gnawed at Ukrainian positions and kept civilians trapped in basements or desperately trying to get out to safety. Attacks aimed at destroying military targets across the country also resulted in casualties in civilian areas
In his Saturday evening video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as “very complicated” and “indescribably difficult”. “The Russian army is trying to achieve at least some result” by concentrating its attacks there, he said.
Civilians who reached the eastern town of Pokrovsk, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Lysychansk, said they held out as long as possible before fleeing the Russian advance.
Yana Skakova held back tears as she described leaving with her 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons while her husband stayed behind to look after their home and animals. The family were among 18 people who had been living in a basement for 2.5 months until police told them on Friday it was time to evacuate.
“None of us wanted to leave our hometown,” she said. “But for the sake of these little children, we decided to leave.”
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said there was fighting at the city’s bus station on Saturday. Residents faced shelling to get water from half a dozen wells, and there was no electricity or cell phone service, Striuk said.
Striuk estimated that 1,500 civilians in the city, which had a population of around 100,000 before the war, have died in Russian attacks since the start of the war, as well as from lack of medicine and incurable diseases.
The Institute for the Study of War. a Washington-based think tank, questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of mounting a huge military effort to take Sieverodonetsk, saying it was proving costly for Russia and would bring few returns.
“When the Battle of Sieverodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will probably have peaked, giving Ukraine the opportunity to relaunch its counter-offensives at the operational level to repel Russian forces,” the institute said. said in an assessment published on Saturday evening.
Deteriorating conditions raised fears that Sieverodonetsk could become the next Mariupol, a port city 281 kilometers (175 miles) to the south that spent nearly three months under siege before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.
After Russian forces took full control of Mariupol, they piled up corpses in a supermarket in the occupied city, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol said on Sunday.
The assistant, Petro Andryushchenko, posted a photo on the Telegram messaging app of what he described as a “dump of corpses”. It showed bodies stacked alongside closed supermarket counters.
It was not immediately possible to verify his account or the authenticity of the photo, which Andryushchenko described as recent.
“Here the Russians bring the bodies of the dead, which were washed from their graves during the attempts to restore the water supply, and partially exhumed. They throw them away like garbage,” he wrote.
Haidai, the governor of Luhansk province, said the constant shelling was creating a “serious” situation in Lysychansk. “There are dead and injured,” he wrote on Telegram, without giving further details.
On Saturday, he said, one civilian died and four were injured after a Russian shell hit a high-rise building.
But some supply and evacuation routes from Lugansk were still operating on Sunday, he said. He claimed the Russians withdrew ‘with losses’ around a village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Sievierodonetsk, but carried out airstrikes on another nearby village on the strategic river Siversky Donetsk.
Ukraine’s military said on Sunday that Russian forces were also trying to reinforce their positions around Lyman, a small town that serves as a key rail hub in the Donetsk region.
but Ukrainian authorities said their fighters remained engaged in fighting in parts of the city.
“The enemy is strengthening its units,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in an operational update. “He’s trying to establish himself in the area.”
The Ukrainian military said heavy fighting was taking place around Donetsk, the provincial capital.
More broadly, Russia launched new airstrikes overnight on northern Ukraine’s Kharkiv and Sumy regions, and in central Ukraine, Ukrainian state agencies said.
The emergency department of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said Sunday morning that Russian shelling had sparked fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Russia has continued to shell Kharkiv, located in northeastern Ukraine, after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.
The Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said a Russian shell ripped through the room of a house and injured a 50-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman early Sunday in the town of Zolochiv, about 40 kilometers (20 miles) ) to the northwest. from Kharkov.
Ukraine’s Border Guard Service said border areas in the Sumy region east of Kharkiv were hit by six unguided missiles. The agency reported no casualties.
Russia claimed its forces destroyed a major Ukrainian ammunition depot in the eastern town of Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskyy’s hometown. High-precision missiles hit a depot located “in one of the industrial enterprises” in the city, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Ukrainian emergency services have confirmed that “an industrial plant” in Kryvyi Rih caught fire after being hit by two Russian rockets and sustaining “significant damage”. Officials did not say whether it served as a military depot.