Ukraine tries to evacuate civilians from embattled Severodonetsk

The last bridge to the city has been destroyed



Bakhmut, Ukraine /REUTERS
Bakhmut, Ukraine /REUTERS

By Reuters

Published: Tue 14 Jun 2022, 9:51 PM

Ukraine said its forces were still trying to evacuate civilians from embattled Severodonetsk on Tuesday after Russia destroyed the last bridge to the devastated eastern city.

The Ukrainian defenders were holding out against the Russians in a battle which has seen ground change hands several times over the past few weeks.

“Russian troops are trying to storm the city, but the military is holding firm, Severodonetsk Ukrainian mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said.

He described the situation as “very difficult”.

Although the last bridge over the Siverskyi Donets river had been felled, evacuations were still being carried out “every minute when there is a lull and there is a possibility of transportation,” Stryuk said. “Every possible chance is taken.”

Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped inside Azot, a chemical factory where its forces have resisted weeks of bombardment that have reduced much of the city to ruins.

Regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said: “The shelling is so powerful that people can no longer stand it in the shelters, their psychological state is on the edge. The last few days, the residents are finally ready to go.”

Russia said it would give the Ukrainian fighters holed up in the chemical plant a chance to surrender on Wednesday morning. Fighters should “stop their senseless resistance and lay down their arms” from 8 am Moscow time, Interfax news agency quoted Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defence Management Centre, as saying.

Civilians would be let out through a “humanitarian corridor”, he said.

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Both sides claim to have inflicted huge casualties in the fighting over the city, Russia’s main target in its battle for the east of the country after it failed to capture the capital Kyiv in March, in the early weeks of its attack on Ukraine.

Ukraine still holds Lysychansk, Severodonetsk's twin city on higher ground on the western bank of the river. But with all the bridges now cut, its forces acknowledge a threat that they could be encircled in Severodonetsk.

Damien Megrou, spokesperson for a unit of foreign volunteers helping to defend Severodonetsk, said there was a risk of leaving “a large pocket of Ukrainian defenders cut off from the rest of the Ukrainian troops” - as in Mariupol, the Black Sea port that surrendered last month after months of Russian siege.

THE BIGGEST FIGHT IN UKRAINE

The battle for Severodonetsk - a city of barely more than 100,000 people before the crisis - is now the biggest fight in Ukraine.

Kyiv has said it is losing 100-200 soldiers killed each day, with hundreds more wounded.

Russia gives no regular figures of its own losses.

Momentum in Severodonetsk has shifted several times over the past few weeks - with Russia concentrating its overwhelming artillery firepower on urban districts to obliterate resistance, then sending in ground troops vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Bigger battles could lie ahead for the wider Ukrainian-held pocket of the Donbas region, nearly all on the opposite bank of the river which Russian forces have found difficult to cross. Ukraine says Russia is massing to attack Sloviansk from the north and along a front near Bakhmut to the south.

Ukrainian officials renewed their pleas for the West to send more and better artillery as well as tanks, drones and other heavy weapons.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told a briefing that Ukraine had received only 10% of the arms it needed from its allies.

“What we don’t have enough of are the weapons that really hit the range that we need to reduce the advantage of the Russian Federation’s equipment,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told an online press briefing on Tuesday.

DRAIN TROOPS

Beyond the Donbas, Ukrainian officials hope that Russia’s focus on capturing the east will drain its forces from other areas and pave the way for counter-attacks to recapture other territory.

Ukraine retook the area around its second largest city Kharkiv in May and has reported small but steady gains in recent days in the south, the biggest swathe Russia retains of the territory it seized in February.

Serhiy Khlan, adviser to the head of the southern, mainly Russian-occupied Kherson province, said Ukraine was having tactical success retaking territory there for a second straight week. Troops had already advanced 5 km (three miles) from Tavriysk, a town on the south bank of the Dnipro river east of Kherson city, and were gradually advancing, he said.

Reuters was unable to verify any reports from the area.


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