KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – After weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces will withdraw from a besieged city in the eastern part of the country to avoid siege, a regional governor said Friday.
The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, has been subjected to relentless Russian bombing. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house fighting before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the outskirts of the city, where they kept holes in its vast underground structures.
In recent days, Russian forces have made progress around Sievierodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops had been ordered to leave Sievierodonetsk to prevent it.
“We’ll have to pull our guys back,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay at the ruined positions because the number of victims in poorly fortified areas will grow every day.”
Haidai said the Ukrainian forces have “received the order to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there”, but did not give further details.
He said the Russians were also advancing on Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units were conducting raids on the outskirts of the city but were driven out by its defenders.
The governor added that a bridge on a highway leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian air strike and became unusable for trucks. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling about 2,000 had been “fully blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.
Following a failed attempt to capture Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, in the early phase of the invasion that began on February 24, Russian forces have shifted focus to the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The Russian military controls about 95% of Luhansk province and about half of the nearby Donetsk province, the two areas that make up the Donbas.
After repeated requests to its Western allies for heavier weapons to counter Russia’s lead in firepower, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said a response had arrived in the form of medium-range US rocket launchers.
A U.S. defense official confirmed Wednesday that all four of the promised High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were in the hands of Ukrainian forces, but said it was not clear if they had been used yet.
The United States agreed to supply the precision-guided systems in late May, and when they were in the region, Ukrainian forces needed about three weeks of training to operate them. The rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).
The United States will send an additional $ 450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including four more of the medium-range missile systems, ammunition and other supplies, U.S. officials said Thursday.
IN SECOND DEVELOPMENT:
An official from the pro-Moscow administration in the southern city of Kherson, who was captured by Russian troops early in the invasion, was killed in an explosion on Friday.
The pro-Russian regional administration in Kherson said Dmitry Savlyuchenko died when his vehicle exploded in what it described as a “terrorist attack.”
There was no immediate responsibility.