Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the battle for the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk is “one of the most difficult” of the war, while highlighting its importance in the key Donbas region.
"In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” Zelenskyy said in a video address late Wednesday.
Ukrainian forces were forced to retreat to the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday in the face of a fierce Russian attack.
Days ago, Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive that gave them control of about half the city, but Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Haidai told the RBC-Ukraine media outlet that when Russia started flattening the city with shelling and air strikes, it made no sense to stay.
"Our [forces] now again control only the outskirts of the city,” Haidai said. “But the fighting is still going on, our [forces] are defending Sievierodonetsk, it is impossible to say the Russians completely control the city."
He acknowledged the difficulties for Kyiv’s forces, telling The Associated Press, "Everything the Russian army has — artillery, mortars, tanks, aviation — all of that, they're using in Sievierodonetsk in order to wipe the city off the face of the Earth and capture it completely."
Haidai indicated that Ukrainian forces could pull back to more defensible positions, such as Lysychansk, a city across the Siverskyi Donets River, which sits on higher ground. He has previously suggested that Kyiv’s forces would have to pull back to avoid being surrounded.
After weeks of focusing its attacks on eastern Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday Russian forces now control 97% of Luhansk province.
Sievierodonetsk is the last major city in the region yet to be captured during Moscow’s 3½-month offensive.
Shoigu said Russian troops were also advancing toward the town of Popasna, and he said they have taken control of Lyman and Sviatohirsk and 15 other towns in the region.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.