Russian forces are tightening the noose around important cities in eastern Ukraine

LISICHANSK, Ukraine – Russian forces appear ready to tighten the noose of about a thousand Ukrainian soldiers near two strategically important cities in the fiercely contested Donbass region of eastern Ukraine on Sunday, stepping up an attack on Ukrainian fronts, forcing Ukraine to rush reinforcements to the region.

In a day of fighting that has put even a territory believed to be safe in Ukrainian hands, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have warned that war could grind for years. They called on Ukraine’s Western allies to settle for a long time as Russia moved aggressively to exhaust Ukraine through what Mr. Johnson, writes in The Sunday Times of London, Called “Exhaustion campaign”.

The Russians made an initial breakthrough Sunday in Toshkivka, a small town southeast of the capital’s Severodonetsk and Lisichansk districts, where fierce street-by-street battles and artillery duels are taking place. raging for weeks. Sergei Haidai, the regional military governor, acknowledged that the Russians had “succeeded” in the Toshkivka area, but said the occupiers had been “defeated” after Ukrainian artillery went on to defend Toshkivka.

It was unclear who controlled Toshkivka until Sunday night. If Moscow’s forces eventually manage to bypass Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, thousands of Ukrainian fighters defending the two cities could be blocked. This will bring a hard-won military victory to the Kremlin and bring Russian forces one step closer to meeting President Vladimir Putin’s goal of captures the entire eastern Donbass of Ukraine.

Heavy fighting in Severodonetsk continues. Said Haidai.

Telephone communications in the area are limited, and bridges leading to Severodonetsk have been destroyed, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation there. The Institute for War Studies, a research group in Washington, said Russia had made “insignificant profits” around the city, but that its offensive in the rest of Donbass had “largely stopped.”

“Russian forces are likely to be able to take over Severodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their available forces in this small area,” the institute said. says in his latest assessment.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says Russian troops and Moscow-backed separatists have also taken control of Metolkine, southeast of Severodonetsk. Russia’s state-run Tass news agency reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there, although it was not possible to independently verify the allegations.

As the Severodonetsk region fell into deeper danger on Sunday, the intensification of Russian attacks in much of Ukraine – including renewed shelling near Kharkiv in the north, strikes on Nikolaev in the south and destruction of infrastructure in the country’s eastern and central regions – made it clear that war could still break out far beyond the Donbass, where Russia has then reoriented its military efforts failed to capture Kyiv in the spring.

Ukraine is facing an increasingly grim and bloody battle in the east, where Russia is using distant artillery to bomb cities and military positions. Ukrainian authorities have complained about this modern weapons from their allies arrives too slowly to undo the benefits of Russian firepower and that about 200 Ukrainian soldiers are killed every day.

The slow-moving conflict in Donbass is undermining the morale of both sides, British defense intelligence said on Sunday.

“Ukrainian forces have probably suffered desertion in recent weeks,” the agency said says in his latest public assessment. But he described the problems in the Russian ranks as more systematic and severe, including “cases of entire Russian units refusing orders and armed clashes between officers and their troops.”

“The morale problems in Russian forces are probably so significant that they limit Russia’s ability to achieve operational goals,” the statement said.

In the northeastern city of Kharkov, the second largest in Ukraine, where Russian forces were pushed out A few weeks ago, Russian missiles hit a tank repair plant, a Russian military spokesman said on Sunday, destroying what the Russian Defense Ministry said were two Urugan missile launchers.

Vadim Denisenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on Sunday that “Russia is trying to make Kharkiv a city on the front line,” describing the situation there as difficult.

Russian strikes also targeted a gas processing plant near the eastern city of Izyum, sparking a large fire and destroying an oil depot in the central Dnepropetrovsk region, killing one person and injuring 11 others, Ukrainian authorities said.

In the Ukrainian port city of Nikolaev, which remains in Ukrainian hands, Ukrainian authorities said Russian missiles also destroyed businesses and infrastructure over the weekend. Two people were killed in the village of Halistinovo in the same area in a separate attack on Saturday, an attack that sparked a fire, regional authorities said.

But it is in Donbass, an area of ​​hilly plains, agricultural fields and coal-mining towns near Russia’s border, that Moscow has invested most of its military power in recent weeks. The Severodonetsk pocket, as the military calls the area around Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, is about three-quarters surrounded by Russian forces, leaving only a thin gap to the west, where Ukrainian troops come and go on rural roads that are often shelled by Russia.

Russian troops crept forward to bridge the gap. On Sunday in Toshkivka, which serves as an important part of Ukraine’s defensive wall, they seem to have succeeded in part.

The Ukrainian artillery soon put them in intense battles, Mr. Haidai said, and the result was unclear.

Ukrainian battle tanks and several Grad multiple rocket launchers were spotted heading for the village on Sunday afternoon, with smoke rising from their chassis and steps crashing into back roads.

If Russian forces break through the defensive lines, they will reduce the ability of Ukrainian troops to maneuver in the Severodonetsk pocket. Progress will also allow Russian forces to threaten the few remaining supply routes to Lisichansk and Severodonetsk, leaving about 70,000 civilians, many of them too old or fragile to evacuate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this month that the “fate” of much of eastern Ukraine is being decided in the battle for the two cities.

Their strategic importance partly explains why Ukraine has chosen to hold on to street fighting there, a strategy fraught with risk. The close-range battle in Severodonetsk, according to Ukrainian thinking, is denying Russia a chance to gain a huge advantage in artillery.

But as Russian forces surrounded troops in Severodonetsk and support forces in Lisichansk, Russian artillery smashed roads, bridges and positions of Ukrainian troops with thousands of shells fired each day, according to Ukrainian estimates.

However, street fighting in the city and battles in the fields around it cost the Russians dearly in life and equipment, more than the Ukrainians have lost, Ukrainian commanders said. After months of fighting, Russia’s army in Ukraine is exhausted and close to its resources, said Andriy Zagorodniuk, Ukraine’s former defense minister, in an interview Sunday.

The Ukrainian approach, he and other analysts said, is to make any advance as expensive as possible.

“Despite the precarious situation, Ukraine has chosen to fight for these cities in a bid to drain Russian forces,” said Michael Coffman, director of Russian research at CNA, a research group in Virginia. He said in a recent analysis that if the Russians broke into Severodonetsk, their struggle with manpower could still impair their ability to sustain any offensive.

Luhansk’s military governor, Haidai, said Russian forces were strengthening their reserves in the area. As heavy shelling hit cities on Sunday, Mr. Haidai said Russian forces had bombed the Azot chemical plant, one of the last strongholds of Ukrainian fighters in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of civilians are also believed to be sheltered.

Under political pressure to achieve victory, said the former Minister of Defense. Zagorodniuk, the Russian military is carelessly throwing resources into battle.

“They need to show their leadership that they have achieved something,” he said of troops and weapons thrown into battle.

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