Russia says its forces have full control of the Ukrainian town of Lyman, a railway hub in the Donetsk region, a gain that would help set the stage for the next phase of the Kremlin’s offensive in eastern Donbass.
Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting for Lyman for several days. The town lies 40 kilometers west of Severodonetsk, the largest city in Donbass still held by Ukraine but currently under assault by Russian forces.
The governor of the Luhansk region, which together with Donetsk forms the Donbass, said on Friday that Russian troops had entered Severodonetsk, the center of the main Russian offensive.
The Russian gains indicate a possible change in momentum in the war.
Although the forces that invaded Ukraine on February 24 failed to capture the capital Kyiv at the start of the conflict, they are making slow but steady progress into the Donbass, much of which was already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. before the war.
The tactics involve mass artillery bombardment and airstrikes that have devastated towns and villages.
“If Russia succeeds in gaining control of these areas, it would most likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantial political achievement and presented to the Russian people as justification for the invasion,” the British Ministry of Defense said in its statement on Saturday. daily intelligence report. .
The British report said Russian forces “probably” captured most of Lyman, and the Russian Defense Ministry said later Saturday they had taken full control of the town.
Russia says command posts hit
Russia also said on Saturday that it had used missile strikes to destroy Ukrainian command posts in Bakhmut and Soledar. Both towns lie on a major road running southwest from Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.
Lyman is a railway junction and also the gateway to railway and road bridges over the Siverskyi Donets River.
The British briefing said a bridgehead near Lyman would give Russia an advantage in the potential next phase of the Donbass offensive. Russian forces will likely attempt to cross the river in the coming days, he added.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had repelled eight assaults in Donetsk and Luhansk in the past 24 hours. Russia’s attacks included artillery assaults in the Severodonetsk region “unsuccessfully”, he said.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Friday that Ukrainian forces may have to withdraw from Severodonetsk – which is on the east side of the river – to avoid capture after Russian troops entered.
Some 90% of buildings in Severodonetsk were damaged, he said, with 14 high-rise buildings destroyed in the latest bombardment.
Several dozen medical staff were staying in Severodonetsk, but they were struggling to get to hospitals because of the shelling, he said.
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Reuters could not independently verify the information.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remained provocative in his nightly address to Ukrainians.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” Zelensky said.
Analysts see challenges in Severodonetsk
Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said that if Russian forces began direct assaults on built-up areas in Severodonetsk, they would likely struggle to gain ground in the city it -same.
“Russian forces performed poorly in built-up urban terrain operations 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. Kyiv and Western countries say Russia’s claims are a false pretext for war.
Thousands of people, many of them civilians, were killed and millions fled their homes during the war. Russia’s destruction of entire urban areas has drawn widespread international condemnation, although Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Earnings in the East follow withdrawals in Kyiv
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been deterred by a wide range of Western sanctions against Russia, nor by past setbacks on the battlefield.
Russian troops advanced after breaking through Ukrainian lines last week in the town of Popasna, south of Severodonetsk, and capturing several nearby villages.
Russia’s gains in the east follow the withdrawal of its forces from the approaches to Kyiv and a Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed its forces back from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
The Ukrainian General Staff said on Saturday that several Russian strikes hit nearby communities and infrastructure near Kharkiv.
In the south, where Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the invasion, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule.
On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal could be reached by Sunday to ban shipments of Russian oil by sea, accounting for around 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not by sea. pipeline.
Zelensky criticized the EU for delaying such a ban. But his country also received a steady supply of arms from the allies. In the last such delivery, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday that Ukraine had started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States.