Ukraine’s fortunes in defending Sievierodonetsk took a turn for the worse Wednesday, with its troops forced to retreat to the outskirts of the eastern industrial city in the face of a fierce Russian attack.
Days ago, Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive that recaptured nearly half the city, but Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Haidai told the RBC-Ukraine media outlet that when Russia started flattening the city with shelling and air strikes, it made no sense to stay.
"Our [forces] now again control only the outskirts of the city,” Haidai said. “But the fighting is still going on, our [forces] are defending Sievierodonetsk, it is impossible to say the Russians completely control the city."
He acknowledged the difficulties for Kyiv’s forces, telling The Associated Press, "Everything the Russian army has — artillery, mortars, tanks, aviation — all of that, they're using in Sievierodonetsk in order to wipe the city off the face of the Earth and capture it completely."
Haidai indicated that Ukrainian forces could pull back to more defensible positions, such as Lysychansk, a city across the Siverskyi Donets River, which sits on higher ground. He has previously suggested that Kyiv’s forces would have to pull back to avoid being surrounded.
After weeks of focusing its attacks on eastern Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday Russian forces now control 97% of Luhansk province. Sievierodonetsk is the last major city in the region yet to be captured during Moscow’s 3½-month offensive.
Shoigu said Russian troops were also advancing toward the town of Popasna, and he said they have taken control of Lyman and Sviatohirsk and 15 other towns in the region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised his troops’ efforts in the eastern Donbas region and said Russia had not expected to meet much resistance.
“The absolutely heroic defense of the Donbas continues,” he said.
Both Russia and Ukraine claim to have inflicted huge casualties on each other.
Shoigu said 6,489 Ukrainian troops have been taken prisoner since the start of the military action in Ukraine on February 24, including 126 over the past few days.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday the United States had started training Ukrainian soldiers on the use of advanced rocket systems being sent to Ukraine as part of a $700 million aid package approved last week.
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Anton Semelroth said the training was taking place in Germany and elsewhere in Europe for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. The truck-mounted system can carry six rockets with a range of about 70 kilometers.
Norway said it trained Ukrainian soldiers in Germany on the use of M109 self-propelled howitzers as part of its shipment of 22 of the weapons to Ukraine.
Norwegian Defense Minister Bjorn Arild Gram said the donation, which includes spare parts and ammunition, is a substantial contribution very much in demand by Ukraine.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.