LYSICHANSK, Ukraine — Russian forces appeared poised to tighten the noose around thousands of Ukrainian troops near two strategically important cities in the bitter conflict region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, launching an offensive against Ukraine’s front line, forcing Ukraine to urgently deploy reinforcements to the area. .
On a day of fighting that put even territory thought securely in Ukrainian hands into play, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that war could rub for years. They urged Ukraine’s Western allies to come to terms with the fact that Russia will act aggressively to wear Ukraine down through what Mr Johnson wrote in The Sunday Times in London: called “Attrition Campaign”.
On Sunday, the Russians made their first breakthrough in Toshkovka, a small town southeast of the capital region of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, where fierce street fighting and artillery duels have been raging for weeks. The region’s military governor, Serhiy Gaidai, acknowledged that the Russians “succeeded” in the Toshkovka area, but said the occupiers “fell defeated” after Ukrainian artillery moved to defend Toshkovka.
By Sunday evening, who controlled Toshkovka was unclear. However, if Moscow’s forces succeed in eventually encircling Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, the thousands of Ukrainian fighters defending the two cities could be stranded. This would bring the Kremlin a hard-won military victory and bring Russian forces one step closer to fulfilling President Vladimir Putin’s goal of capturing all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas.
“Heavy fighting continues in Severodonetsk,” Mr. Haidai said.
Telephone service in the area is limited and the bridges leading to Severodonetsk have been destroyed, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation there. A Washington-based research group, the Institute for the Study of War, said Russia has made “minor gains” in the city area, but its advance into the rest of the Donbas has “largely stalled.”
“Russian forces will likely be able to capture Severodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their existing forces in this small area,” the institute said in a statement. says in his latest assessment.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Russian soldiers and Moscow-backed separatists also took control of Metolkino, southeast of Severodonetsk. The Russian state news agency TASS reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there, although these claims could not be independently verified.
As the Severodonetsk area came under increasing danger on Sunday, the intensification of Russian attacks across much of Ukraine, including renewed artillery shelling near Kharkiv in the north, attacks on Mykolaiv in the south, and destruction of infrastructure in the eastern and central regions of the country, is clear. showed that the war could still flare up far beyond the Donbass, where Russia refocused its military efforts after failing to capture Kyiv in the spring.
Ukraine is facing increasingly grim and bloody fighting in the east, where Russia is using long-range artillery to bombard cities and military positions. Ukrainian officials complain that modern weaponry from their allies is too slow to offset Russia’s firepower advantage, and that up to 200 Ukrainian soldiers are killed daily.
The sluggish conflict in Donbass is undermining the morale of both sides, the British Defense Intelligence Agency said on Sunday.
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“Ukrainian forces have likely deserted in recent weeks,” the agency said in a statement. says in his latest public assessment. But problems within the Russian ranks were described as more systemic and serious, including “cases of entire Russian units refusing orders and armed clashes between officers and their troops.”
“The morale problems in the Russian forces are probably so significant that they limit the ability of Russia to achieve operational goals,” the report says.
In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city where Russian troops were driven out weeks ago, Russian missiles hit a tank repair plant, a Russian military spokesman said Sunday, destroying what the Russian Defense Ministry said were two Urugan rocket launchers. .
Vadym Denisenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on Sunday that “Russia is trying to turn Kharkiv into a front-line city,” calling the situation there difficult.
Russian strikes also hit a gas processing plant near the eastern town of Izyum, causing a major fire and destroying an oil depot in central Dnepropetrovsk region, killing one person and injuring 11, Ukrainian officials said.
In the port city of Mykolaiv, which remains in Ukrainian hands, Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles also destroyed businesses and infrastructure over the weekend. Two people were killed in the village of Galitsynovo in the same area in a separate strike on Saturday that led to a fire, local authorities said.
But it is in the Donbass, a region of rolling plains, agricultural fields and coal-mining towns close to the Russian border, that Moscow has deployed the bulk of its military power in recent weeks. The Severodonetsk Pocket, as military officials call the area around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, is about three-quarters surrounded by Russian troops, leaving only a small gap to the west, where Ukrainian troops come and go along village roads that are often shelled by Russia.
Russian troops crawled forward to close the gap. On Sunday in Toshkivka, which served as an important part of Ukraine’s defensive wall, they appeared to have had some success.
According to Mr. Haidai, Ukrainian artillery soon engaged them in fierce battles, the outcome of which is unclear.
Ukrainian battle tanks and several Grad multiple launch rocket systems were heading towards the village on Sunday afternoon, smoke billowing from under their chassis and their tracks billowing up country roads.
If Russian forces manage to break through the defensive lines, this will reduce the ability of Ukrainian troops to maneuver in the Severodonetsk pocket. This offensive would also allow Russian troops to threaten the few remaining supply routes to Lysichansk and Severodonetsk, where some 70,000 civilians remain, many of them too elderly or infirm to be evacuated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this month that the “fate” of much of eastern Ukraine is being decided in a two-city battle.
Their strategic importance partly explains why Ukraine chose to endure street fighting there, which is fraught with risks. According to the Ukrainians, close combat in Severodonetsk deprives Russia of the opportunity to use its huge advantage in artillery weapons.
But as Russian troops surrounded the soldiers in Severodonetsk and supported the troops in Lysychansk, Russian artillery lines fired thousands of shells at Ukrainian roads, bridges and positions every day, by Ukrainian estimates.
However, the street fighting in the city and the fighting in the fields around it cost the Russians dearly in life and equipment, more than the Ukrainians lost, Ukrainian commanders said. After months of fighting, the Russian army in Ukraine is exhausted and nearing the limit of its resources, former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodniuk said in an interview Sunday.
The Ukrainian approach, according to him and other analysts, is to make each promotion as costly as possible.
“Despite the precarious situation, Ukraine has decided to fight for these cities in an attempt to debilitate Russian forces,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies for the CNA research group in Virginia. He said in recent analysis that if the Russians break through at Severodonetsk their struggle with manpower could still weaken their ability to support any offensive.
The military governor of Lugansk, Mr. Gaidai, said Russian forces were building up their reserves in the vicinity. As cities came under heavy artillery fire on Sunday, Mr Haidai said Russian troops had shelled the Azot chemical plant, one of the last strongholds of Ukrainian militants in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of civilians are also believed to be hiding.
According to former defense minister Mr. Zagorodniuk, under political pressure, the Russian military is thoughtlessly throwing resources into battle to win.
“They need to show their leadership that they have achieved something,” he said of the troops and weapons thrown into battle.