- Lysychansk city “no longer exists” – resident
- Putin achieves biggest victory in the five-month-old war
- The next Donetsk battle
- Ukraine hopes for a southern counterattack
Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian forces set their sights on their next targets in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin declared victory in neighboring Luhansk province and the five-month war entered a new phase.
The capture of Lyschansk on Sunday completed the Russian invasion of Luhansk, one of two regions in Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region that has become the site of Europe’s largest battle in generations.
Both sides suffered heavy losses in the fighting for Luhansk, particularly during the siege of the twin cities of Lyschansk and Severodonetsk. Both cities have been devastated by relentless Russian bombardment.
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“The city doesn’t exist anymore,” said Nina, a young mother who fled Lyschansk to seek refuge in the central city of Dnipro.
“It has been practically wiped off the face of the earth. There is no humanitarian distribution center, it has been bombed. The building that housed the center no longer exists. Just like many of our homes.”
On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces took new defensive lines in Donetsk, where they still control major cities, while Putin asked his forces to “completely rest and restore their military readiness”, while units in other regions continue to fight.
Russian forces bombed the towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk during the night, according to Pavlo Kirilenko, the governor of Donetsk.
“They are now also the enemy’s main offensive line,” he said of the towns. There is no safe place without bombing in the Donetsk region.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has demanded that Ukraine hand over both Luhansk and Donetsk to pro-Moscow separatists, who have declared independent states.
“This is Russia’s last victory on Ukrainian soil,” Oleksiy Aristovich, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a video posted on the Internet.
“These were medium-sized cities. It took from April 4 to July 4 – 90 days. Lots of losses.”
Besides the battle of Donetsk, Aristovich said, Ukraine had hoped to launch counterattacks in the south of the country.
“The capture of cities in the east means that 60% of Russian forces are now concentrated in the east and it is difficult to redirect them to the south,” he said.
“And there were no more troops that could be brought from Russia. They paid a heavy price to Severodonetsk and Lyschansk.”
Some military experts considered that the hard-won victory brought the Russian forces few strategic gains, and the outcome of the so-called “Battle of Donbass” remained in the balance.
“I think it’s a tactical victory for Russia but at an enormous cost,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London. Compare the battle to the massive battles for the meager territorial gains that marked World War I.
“This has taken 60 days to make very slow progress,” he said. “The Russians may declare some kind of victory, but the main warlike battle is yet to come.”
Melvin said the decisive battle for control of Ukraine is likely not to take place in the east, where Russia is launching its main offensive, but in the south, where Ukraine has launched a counterattack to reclaim territory.
“This is where we see the Ukrainians making progress around Kherson. There are counterattacks starting there and I think we are likely to see the momentum swing into Ukraine where it then tries to launch a large-scale counterattack to push the Russians back.”
The mayor, Oleksandr Senkevich, said that Russian missiles hit Mykolaiv, the southern city on the main highway between Kherson and Odessa, early Tuesday morning.
Zelensky said on Monday that despite Ukraine’s withdrawal from Lyschansk, its forces continue to fight.
“Ukrainian armed forces are responding, pushing and destroying the offensive capability of the occupiers day by day,” Zelensky said in a nightly video message.
“We need to break it. It’s a difficult task. It takes extraordinary time and effort. But we have no alternative.”
The Battle of Luhansk is the closest that Moscow has achieved one of its stated goals since its forces were defeated in an attempt to seize Kyiv in March. This marked Russia’s biggest victory since its capture of the southern port of Mariupol in late May.
Putin began his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to disarm its southern neighbor and protect Russian spokesmen from what he calls “fascist” nationalists. Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless excuse for outright aggression to seize territory.
Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, admitted that his entire province was now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters: “We need to win the war, not the battle of Lyschansk … a war.”
Gaidai said the Ukrainian forces that withdrew from Lyschansk are now holding the line between Bakhmut and Slovyansk, preparing to repel any further Russian advance.
Reuters was not able to verify the battlefield accounts.
Ukraine’s hopes for a sustained counterattack depend in part on receiving additional weapons from the West, including missiles that could neutralize Russia’s massive firepower advantage by striking deep behind the front line.
“It’s a question of how quickly the supplies arrive,” Aristovich said.
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Reporting from Reuters Borex. writing by Michael Berry; Editing by Simon Cameron Moore, Robert Percell
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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