The Ukrainian army leaves the battered city for fortified positions

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – After weeks of fierce fightingUkrainian forces have started to withdraw from a beleaguered town in the east of the country to move to stronger positions, a regional official said on Friday, after four months of Russian invasion.

The planned withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, comes after relentless Russian bombardment reduced most of the industrial city to rubble and reduced its population by 100,000. to 10,000. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to the huge Azot chemical plant on the outskirts of the city, where they remain locked in its vast underground structures in which about 500 civilians also found refuge.

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across a river, in an effort to encircle the Ukrainian forces.

Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the focal point of the Russian offensive aimed at capturing all of Donbass and destroying the Ukrainian army defending it – the most capable and battle-hardened segment of the country’s armed forces. The two cities and their surroundings are the last major pockets of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region, 95% of which are under the control of Russian and local separatist forces. The Russians and the separatists also control about half of the Donetsk region, the second province of Donbass.

Russia used its numerical advantages in troops and weapons to crush Sievierodonetsk in what became a war of attrition, while Ukraine demanded better and more weapons from its Western allies. The bridges to the city were destroyed, slowing the Ukrainian army’s ability to resupply, reinforce, and evacuate the wounded and others. Much of the city’s electricity, water and communications infrastructure was destroyed.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops had been ordered to leave Sievierodonetsk to avoid greater casualties and move to better fortified positions. Regional administration head Roman Vlasenko said the withdrawal has already begun and will take several days.

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“For now, the Ukrainian army is still in Sievierodonetsk,” Vlasenko told CNN. “They are currently withdrawn from the city. It started yesterday.

Ukraine’s military spokesman declined to confirm the retreat order, saying government policy prevented comments on Ukrainian troop movements.

“Unfortunately, we will have to withdraw our troops from Sievierodonetsk,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “It makes no sense to stay on the destroyed positions, and the number of killed in action has been steadily increasing.”

A senior US defense official, speaking in Washington on condition of anonymity, on Friday called the Ukrainians’ move a “tactical retrograde” to shore up forces in positions where they can better defend themselves. This will add to Ukraine’s efforts to keep Russian forces pinned down in a small area for longer, the official said.

Haidai noted that while the retreat is underway, some Ukrainian troops remain in Sievierodonetsk, facing Russian bombardment which has destroyed 80% of the buildings.

“To this day, the resistance in Sievierodonetsk continues,” Haidai told the AP. “The Russians relentlessly shell Ukrainian positions, burning everything.”

Haidai said the Russians were also advancing towards Lysychansk – from Zolote and Toshkivka – adding that Russian reconnaissance units made incursions on the outskirts of the town but its defenders chased them away. The governor added that a bridge leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian airstrike and is unusable for trucks. Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov told the AP that some of the troops leaving Sievierodonetsk were heading for combat in Lysychansk.

In other battlefield reports, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling around 2,000 soldiers were “completely pinned down” near Hirske and Zolote, in the south of Lysychansk. The claim could not be independently verified.

Following a failed attempt to capture Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, at the start of the invasion Since February 24, Russian forces have focused on Donbass, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

After repeated requests to its Western allies for heavier weapons to counter Russia’s firepower advantage, four US medium-range rocket launchers have arrived, and four more are on the way. The top US defense official said on Friday that more Ukrainian forces were training outside Ukraine to use High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and should return to their country with the weapons by mid-July.

The rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers). 18 American coastal and river patrol boats will also be sent. The official said there was no evidence that Russia succeeded in intercepting what has been a steady flow of military aid to Ukraine from the United States and other countries. Russia has repeatedly threatened to hit, or even claimed to have hit, such shipments.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

The day after Ukraine was approved as a candidate for European Union membership, Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians not to focus on all that remains to be done before the country is accepted into the EU , but to quietly celebrate the moment and be proud of how far Ukraine has come. has already moved away from its Soviet past.

“Don’t be happy it’s a slap in the face for Moscow, but be proud it’s a clap for Ukraine,” he said in his nightly video address. “Get inspired. We deserve it. Please smile and let God bless us all with a quiet night. Then tomorrow, once again in battle. With new strength, with new wings.

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Zelenskyy urged Glastonbury Festival music fans to “spread the truth about the war in Russia”. Addressing the crowd at the UK music extravaganza via video on Friday ahead of a set by The Libertines, Zelenskyy said: “We in Ukraine would also like to live life as before and enjoy freedom and this wonderful summer. , but we can’t do that because the worst happened, Russia stole our peace.

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A pro-Moscow administration official in the southern city of Kherson, captured by Russian troops at the start of the invasion, was killed in an explosion on Friday. The pro-Russian Kherson regional administration said Dmitry Savlyuchenko died when his vehicle exploded in what it described as a “terrorist attack”. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

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Yuras Karmanau reported from Lviv.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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