Ukraine ordered its troops to withdraw from their remaining foothold in the city of Severodonetsk to avoid encirclement, the regional governor said, ending a battle that lasted nearly two months and giving Russia a small but symbolically important victory in the grinding war for control of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas area.
Hard to defend and separated from the rest of Ukrainian-held territory by a river, Severodonetsk, a city of just over 100,000 people before the war, had limited strategic value by itself. It holds, however, political significance for both sides because of its status as the administrative center of Ukrainian-controlled parts of Luhansk, one of the two regions that make up Donbas.
Most of Severodonetsk was already held by Russian troops in recent weeks, with Ukrainian defenders holed up in the sprawling Azot industrial plant on the northern bank of Siverskyi Donets River. Weeks of brutal street battles and artillery exchanges in Severodonetsk mean that Russia has ended up capturing a largely depopulated and uninhabitable wasteland at a huge cost in lives and equipment.
Four out of every five buildings in Severodonetsk have been damaged beyond repair by Russian shelling and airstrikes, and all the vital infrastructure in the city has been destroyed, said Serhiy Haidai, the head of Ukraine’s military administration for Luhansk who announced the withdrawal orders on Friday. Most of the city’s residents have fled to safer parts of Ukraine or Europe in recent months. Hundreds of local civilians are believed to have been killed, Ukrainian officials say. [Continue reading…]