Russia’s military seized control of most of the city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, as Moscow denounced plans by western powers to deliver powerful new weapons to Kyiv’s forces.
Severodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said Moscow’s troops now held about 60 per cent of the ruined city, with 20 per cent remaining in Ukrainian hands and the rest being no-man’s land, as intense street fighting followed weeks of Russian bombardment.
“The 20 per cent is being fiercely defended by our armed forces. Our troops are holding defensive lines. Attempts are being made to drive out the Russian troops… We have hope that despite everything we will free the city,” he said.
Severodonetsk was until now the biggest government-held city in Luhansk region, which with neighbouring Donetsk makes up the Donbas, a coal-rich, industrial and mostly Russian-speaking area that the Kremlin says it is determined to “liberate” from Kyiv’s rule.
Some Ukrainian troops are now believed to be retreating from Severodonetsk and reinforcing positions across the Siverskyi Donets river in neighbouring Lysychansk, a city with a pre-war population of 100,000 people that is expected to be Russia’s next target.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said “part of the Ukrainian forces have withdrawn to more favourable, previously prepared positions (and) another part continues fighting in [Severodonetsk].”
“Lysychansk is fully under Ukrainian control. All free settlements in Luhansk region are constantly under fire… We are fighting for every settlement of Luhansk region. We are waiting for western weapons and preparing for de-occupation,” he added.
The United States said it will supply Ukraine with precision rocket systems that can strike Russian targets from some 80km, as part of a new $700 million (€658 million) package of military aid.
The so-called Himars system will help redress what Ukraine says is Russia’s current major battlefield advantage in the range and number of artillery and rocket systems that it has deployed in Donbas.
Kyiv says it also urgently requires better air defences to counter Russia’s fighter jets, bombers and long-range missiles, and Germany announced on Wednesday that it would provide Ukraine with its advanced Iris-T medium-range surface-to-air defence system.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz said, who has been under growing pressure to expand and accelerate arms supplies to Ukraine, said Germany had been “delivering continuously since the beginning of the war”.
Moscow condemned the latest announcements of western arms supplies to Kyiv, and said it did not trust Ukraine not to use the powerful Himars system to strike Russian territory.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was “obvious that the US is leading a group of states that are intentionally pumping the Kyiv regime with weapons.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We believe the US is deliberately pouring oil on the fire. The US is obviously holding the line that it will fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.”