Ukrainian army to leave Sievierodonetsk to avoid siege

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – After weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces will withdraw from a besieged city in the east of the country to avoid siege, a regional governor said on Friday.

The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, faced relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the outskirts of the city, where they hid in its sprawling underground structures.

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

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops were ordered to leave Sievierodonetsk to prevent this.

“We’re going to have to pull our guys out,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay in the destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will grow every day.”

Haidai said Ukrainian forces had “received the order to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there”, but did not elaborate.

He said the Russians were also advancing towards Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units had carried out incursions into the city limits but were driven back by its defenders.

The governor added that a bridge on a highway leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian air strike and had become unusable for trucks. The claim could not be independently verified.

The Russian Defense Ministry declared on Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling around 2,000 troops had been “totally blockaded” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.

After a failed attempt to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in the early stages 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 neighboring Donetsk Province, the two areas that make up the Donbas.

After repeated calls to its Western allies for heavier weapons to counter Russia’s advantage in firepower, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said an answer had arrived in the form of American medium-range rocket launchers.

A US 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 unclear whether they had ever been used.

The US approved the provision of precision-guided systems in late May, and once in the region, Ukrainian forces needed about three weeks of training to operate them. Rockets can travel about 70 kilometers.

The US will send an additional $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including four more medium-range rocket systems, munitions and other supplies, US officials announced Thursday.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

A pro-Moscow government official in the southern city of Kherson, who was captured by Russian troops at the start of 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 claim of liability.

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