Russian gains in eastern Ukraine point to changing war dynamics
- Russian forces are advancing in the east, changing the dynamic
- The capture of Lyman would set the stage for the next phase of the offensive
- Sievierodonetsk under fire
KIEV, May 28 (Reuters) – Russian forces attacked the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday after saying they had captured the nearby Lyman rail junction as Moscow ramped up its offensive in eastern Donbas.
Russian gains in recent days suggest a shift in momentum in the war, now in its fourth month. The invading forces appear poised to seize the entire Luhansk region of Donbass, a key Kremlin war target, despite Ukrainian resistance.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday its troops and allied separatists were now in full control of Lyman, the site of a railway junction and west of the Siversky Donets River in the Donetsk region, which borders Luhansk.
Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
However, Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said the battle over Lyman is ongoing, website ZN.ua reported.
Russian forces are expected to attempt to cross the river in the coming days in the next phase of the Kremlin’s Donbass offensive, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence report on Saturday.
Sievierodonetsk, some 60 km (40 miles) from Lyman on the east side of the river and the largest Donbass city still held by Ukraine, is now heavily attacked by the Russians.
“Sievierodonetsk is under constant enemy fire,” Ukrainian police said in a social media post on Saturday.
Russian artillery also shelled the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must take to stop a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces.
“There was significant destruction in Lysychansk,” police said.
The governor of Luhansk, which forms Donbass with Donetsk, said on Friday that Russian troops had already entered Sievarodonetsk. Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from the city to avoid capture, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Russian forces have made slow but steady progress in Donbass, much of which was already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists before the war, after failing to capture the capital Kyiv shortly after invading Ukraine on March 24. to conquer February.
Their tactics include mass artillery fire and airstrikes that have devastated cities and towns.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Saturday that Ukrainian forces repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk in the previous 24 hours. Russia’s attacks included artillery strikes in the Sievierodonetsk area, sources said.
“Should Russia succeed in taking over these areas, it would most likely be seen by the Kremlin as a major political achievement and presented to the Russian people as justification for the invasion,” the British intelligence report said.
About 90% of buildings in Sieverodonetsk were damaged, Gaidai said, with 14 high-rise buildings destroyed by the latest shelling. Several dozen medical workers remained in Sievierodonetsk, but they had difficulty getting only to the hospitals because of the shelling, the Luhansk governor said.
Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy remained defiant in his nightly address to Ukrainians.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sieverodonetsk will be theirs, then they are mistaken. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” said Zelenskyy.
Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said that while Russian forces had begun direct attacks on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to gain a foothold in the city itself.
“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war,” they said.
Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and rid it of nationalists who threaten Russian speakers there. Kyiv and Western countries say Russia’s claims are a false pretext for war.
Thousands of people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the war and several million have fled their homes. The Russian demolition of entire urban areas has drawn widespread international condemnation, although Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been deterred by a wide array of Western sanctions against Russia, nor by previous battlefield setbacks.
Russia’s eastern advances follow the withdrawal of its forces from the approaches to Kyiv and a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed its forces back from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Saturday that several Russian strikes had hit nearby communities and infrastructure near Kharkiv.
On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said an agreement could be reached by Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, which accounts for about 75% of the bloc’s supplies, but not via pipelines. Continue reading
Zelenskyy has criticized the EU for delaying such a ban.
But his country has also received constant shipments of arms from allies. In the latest shipment of this kind, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday Ukraine had started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States. Continue reading
Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters journalists in Popasna Writing by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan Editing by William Mallard and Frances Kerry
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.