It was more a question of when, not if, the remaining Ukrainian units in the eastern city of Severodonetsk would be withdrawn.
In recent weeks, Russian forces have simply destroyed every defensive position the Ukrainians have taken, pushing them into a few blocks in and around the city’s Azot chemical plant.
Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk held out much longer than many observers predicted, forcing the Russians and their allies to dedicate resources to the city that could have been used to press the offensive elsewhere.
But the Ukrainian military clearly made the decision that there was nothing left to defend – and that hundreds of civilians sheltering in the plant were in increasing danger with each passing day.
According to the Institute for War, a US think tank that follows the campaign closely, “the loss of Severodonetsk is a loss for Ukraine in the sense that any land captured by Russian forces is a loss – but the battle of Severodonetsk it will not be a decisive Russian victory.”
Now the battle moves across the Siverskiy Donets River to Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk controlled by Ukrainian forces. And there are already signs that the Russians will use the same ruthless area bombing tactic to crush Ukrainian forces, deploying fighter jets, multiple rocket launch systems and even short-range ballistic missiles like the Tochka-U.
Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk’s regional military administration, noted on Friday: “There is a lot of military equipment. According to our information, at least six Tochka-U went out in the direction of Lysychansk from Starobilsk alone. One is enough destructive power – – six is a total disaster.”
The loss of Severodonetsk – and potentially Lysychansk in the coming days – may have counted in Ukrainian calculations, given the overwhelming firepower of Russian forces and the apparent improvement in Russian logistics since the campaign against Kyiv was abandoned. But every defended town and city offers an opportunity to degrade the enemy.
There are still large areas of the neighboring Donetsk region under Ukrainian control. The regional military administration says about 45% of Donetsk is in the hands of Ukrainian forces, including the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
There aren’t many obvious defensive positions west of Lysychansk, in an area of open country. Ukrainian commanders will have to decide whether the entire pocket – defended valiantly for weeks – is best abandoned for a more consolidated defense of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, Donetsk’s industrial belt.
The question is whether the losses inflicted on Russian forces in recent weeks will undermine their ability and desire to devour more territory, especially as Ukraine deploys more accurate Western weapons such as HIMARS rocket systems.
Likewise, it is unclear whether the punishment suffered by Ukrainian units in the Donbass region over the past two months has left them with sufficient resources to launch counterattacks against Russian flanks (as they have attempted against Russian forces advancing from the Kharkiv region). , In the north. )
The Kremlin did not deviate from its ultimate goal of taking Donetsk and Luhansk. Now it has almost all of the latter. Completing the “special military operation” will still take weeks, and more likely months, if any. It became a classic war of attrition.