Russian forces in eastern Ukraine captured the center of the railway city of Lyman and surrounded most of the city of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian officials said Friday, as Kiev forces retreated in the face of Moscow’s largest advance in weeks.
Ukraine said its forces still maintain new lines of defense in the eastern Donbas region, despite apparent Russian advances on two key fronts there showing how momentum has shifted in recent days.
Moscow’s separatist accomplices said they were in complete control of Lyman, which has attacked Russia from the north in one of the key axes of its advance.
“I fear that (President Vladimir) Putin, at great cost to himself and to the Russian military, will continue to chew through soil in Donbas,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Bloomberg UK.
Ukrainian officials acknowledged that Russia had taken most of the city. But the defense ministry said troops were still blocking the Russians from launching an advance towards Sloviansk, a major city half an hour’s drive to the southwest.
In the east, Russian forces had surrounded two-thirds of Sievierodonetsk and destroyed 90% of the buildings, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. It is the largest city of Ukraine in the Donbas. Russia has tried to trap Ukrainian troops there and in Lysychansk across the river.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleskiy Arestovych said overnight that Lyman had fallen and that the well-organized Russian attack there showed that the Moscow army was improving its tactics and operations.
After being pushed back this month from the capital Kiev and the outskirts of Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, Russian forces are making their strongest advance in weeks in the Donbas.
The advance gained ground after Russian troops breached Ukrainian lines south of Sievierodonetsk in the city of Popasna last week.
Popasna, reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-occupied territory on Thursday, was a wasteland of burned-out buildings. With Russian tanks and military vehicles in the streets and attack helicopters low overhead, the bloated body of a dead man in combat uniform lay in a courtyard.
Tired of hiding in a basement, Natalia Kovalenko had returned to live in the wreckage of her flat. The balcony was blown away and the windows had been thrown out.
She stared into the courtyard and told how two people had died and eight were injured by a grenade as they went out to cook. Inside, her kitchen and living room were full of rubble, but she’d cleared out a small bedroom to sleep.
“I just need to fix the window somehow. The wind is still bad,” she said. “We’re tired of being so scared.”
Russian ground forces have now captured several villages northwest of Popasna, the British Ministry of Defense said.
Russia’s advance in the east follows a Ukrainian counter-offensive that drove Russian forces back from Kharkov in May. But Ukrainian forces have failed to attack Russian supply lines to the Donbas.
On Thursday, Russian troops fired on parts of Kharkov for the first time in days. Local authorities said nine people were killed. Reuters filmed grenades bursting into a neighborhood, sending clouds of smoke into the sky over a bloodstained sidewalk strewn with broken glass.
The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.
In the south, where Moscow has taken much of the territory since the February 24 invasion, Ukrainian officials believe Russia wants to impose permanent rule.
The southern command of the Ukrainian army said that Russia was shipping military equipment from Crimea, building a third line of defense to prepare for a possible Ukrainian counter-attack, and the banks of a reservoir behind a dam in the Dnipro River separating the troops. , mined.
“All this indicates that Russia will try to keep the occupied territories under its control,” he said.
On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said an agreement could be reached on Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, which accounts for about 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not through pipelines, a compromise to help Hungary win and unblock new penalties.
In a late-night speech, Zelenskiy criticized the EU for hesitating over a ban on Russian energy imports, saying the bloc financed Moscow’s war effort at €1 billion a day.
“Every day of delay… just means more Ukrainians are being killed,” he said.
Western countries led by the United States have provided Ukraine with long-range weapons, including M777 howitzers. Kiev says it wants longer-range ground weapons, especially rocket launchers, to win artillery battles.
US officials say the Biden administration is considering providing Kiev with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which has a range of hundreds of kilometers (miles).
Washington had not supplied such weapons, in part to prevent an escalation should Ukraine hit targets deep in Russia. US and diplomatic officials told Reuters Washington has discussed this with Kiev.
“We’re concerned about escalation yet don’t want to set geographic limits or tie their hands too much to the stuff we give them,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any delivery of weapons that could reach Russian territory would be “a serious step towards unacceptable escalation”.
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to defeat “Nazis” there. The West describes this as an unfounded justification for aggressive warfare.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)