Ukrainian forces must leave Severodonetsk after weeks of offensive by Russian troops, with attacks that have left the city reduced to rubble, a Ukrainian local official announced today.
The news came just hours after the European Union (EU) strongly supported Ukraine, with the granting of candidate country status, although the process could take years before Kiev joins the bloc.
The capture of Severodonetsk, in the eastern Donbass region, has become a crucial Russian objective after its troops were forced to abandon Kiev at the start of the invasion, which is four months old on Friday.
The strategic city was the scene of extremely violent fighting in the streets for weeks, in which the Ukrainians tried to overcome the war disadvantage with strong resistance.
But on Friday, Sergei Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region, where the industrial city is located, announced that troops must abandon the town.
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces will have to withdraw from Severodonetsk. They have been ordered to do so,” he said on Telegram.
“Staying in positions that have been bombed incessantly for months makes no sense,” he added.
The city was “almost turned to rubble” by the continuous bombing, the governor said.
“All critical infrastructure has been destroyed: 90% of the city has been damaged, 80% of the houses will have to be demolished,” he explained.
The conquest of Severodonetsk would allow the Russians to advance on the nearby city of Lysychansk, consolidating control of the Lugansk region and making it possible to advance the offensive through the Donbass mining basin, which since 2014 has been partially under the control of pro-Moscow separatists.
Lysychansk suffers bombing
Gaiday reported that the Russians are now advancing towards Lysychansk, which is also under intense siege by Moscow troops, who bombard the city relentlessly.
AFP journalists who left the city on Thursday had to get out of the car they were traveling in twice to take cover on the ground due to Russian bombing of the city’s main supply route.
The situation for those remaining in Lysychansk looks grim.
Liliya Nesterenko told AFP that her house has no gas, water and electricity. She and her mother cook over an open fire.
A representative of the pro-Russian separatists called Ukrainian resistance “useless”.
“I believe that at the rate our soldiers are proceeding, very soon the entire territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the pro-Russian militias, told AFP via video call.
In southern Ukraine, in the Russian-controlled city of Kherson, a Moscow-appointed official was killed in a bombing with explosives placed in his car, according to Russian news agencies.
The Russian-appointed governor of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, confirmed the victim’s identity to the RIA Novosti news agency. “Yes, one of my employees died. Dmitri Savlushenko, he was Secretary for Youth and Sports.”
Ukraine insists on requests for more weapons and on Thursday the US government announced new military aid to Kiev of 450 million dollars.
Historic EU decision
At the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, the leaders of the 27 countries agreed to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, another former Soviet republic with part of its territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked him for the support, which he called a “unique and historic moment” in relations between his country and the EU.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision sent “a very strong signal” to Russia.
After the EU summit, it will be the turn of the G7 meeting and then the NATO meeting, the latter two with the presence of US President Joe Biden.
A US government source said Sunday’s G7 meeting could announce new sanctions against Russia.