Russia renews assault on Key Eastern City as progress on both sides slows

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine – Ukrainian and Russian forces exchanged further blows on Sunday near Sievierodonetsk, military authorities and analysts said, as Moscow resumed its push towards the city, one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in a key part of the east.

The Battle of Sievierodonetsk has emerged as another pivotal point in the war as Russia struggles to achieve victories. After its failed assaults on the capital, kyiv, and the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, the Russian army has regrouped and now appears focused on capturing the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. A victory at Sievierodonetsk would give Russian forces control of Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the region.

Moscow has already suffered heavy casualties in its push towards the city, but capturing it could allow its forces to mount an assault on Kramatorsk, Ukraine’s regional military command to the west. At the same time, Ukraine’s Western allies are racing howitzers and other long-range weapons to the frontline to bolster resistance.

The ongoing fighting is also a sign of Moscow’s shrinking military targets as the war hits the three-month mark. Capturing all of Ukraine at once proved out of reach for Moscow, but Russian forces managed to slowly nibble the country, moving from east to west.

In Sievierodonetsk on Sunday, Russian forces tried to break through the city’s defenses from four directions. But neither side has been able to shift the front line substantially in their favor in the chaotic landscape of the battlefield, which is dominated by farmland and small mining towns and villages that are for the most deserts.

Serhiy Haidai, the head of Ukraine’s military administration in Lugansk, said Russian forces retreated to their previous positions, repelled by Ukrainian forces. The Russian army continued to fire mortar shells at residential areas in Sievierodonetsk, damaging at least seven houses.

Earlier on Sunday, Haidai said Ukrainian National Guard forces destroyed a heavy artillery piece, a Pion, which Russian troops had used to shell Sievierodonetsk and destroy a bridge connecting it to the city of Lysychansk from the other side of the border. Seversky Donets river.

Mr Haidai said Russian propagandists bragged about the location of the weapon, allowing city defenders to target it more precisely. “The punishment was not long in coming,” he wrote on Telegram, a messaging app.

The Ukrainian military said it also destroyed Russian vehicles and a pontoon bridge over the Seversky Donets near the town of Serebrianka, about 20 miles west of Sievierodonetsk. A Ukrainian military statement called the Russian plan to cross the river “mission impossible”.

The 650-mile-long river, which originates in Russia and meanders southeast through the Donbass region, presented a significant natural obstacle to the Russian offensive. Some of the invasion force’s biggest casualties of the war so far came during an attempt to cross the river this month.

In a sign of the offensive’s importance to strategic planners in Moscow, Russia deployed a company of Terminator armored vehicles to the fighting that was part of the failed offensive against kyiv, according to a British military intelligence report released on Sunday.

“However, with a maximum of 10 Terminators deployed, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign,” the report states.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research organization that follows the conflict, said on Saturday that Russian forces had “intensified their efforts to encircle and capture Sievierodonetsk”, an effort that was likely to continue as their advances remained largely blocked elsewhere in the Donbas region.

Russian forces in the more western town of Izium have been trying to push south into the Donbass region for weeks, but their offensive has been blocked by strong Ukrainian resistance.

For weeks, Ukrainian and Russian troops were engaged in a grueling war of attrition, often fighting fiercely over small areas. A village may one day fall into the hands of the Russians, only to be taken over by the Ukrainians a few days later.

On Sunday, the Ukrainian army said Russian forces had attacked several places along the eastern front line. In a report on the war published early Sunday evening, he described intensive artillery fire on mostly deserted towns and villages.

North of the city of Sloviansk in Donetsk, which Russian forces sought to capture, Russian artillery bombarded Ukrainian positions and staged probing assaults which were repulsed, according to the Ukrainian army report.

Further east, Russian forces attacked two frontline villages – Prudnovka and Aleksandrovka – with mortar and artillery fire, but did not advance either, according to the assessment.

On Sunday, Ukrainian troops stationed south of Izium kept a watchful eye on the front line as artillery and mortar shells pierced the sky.

“They are trying little by little, all the time,” said Oleh, 56, commander of a volunteer unit south of Izium, who asked that their frontline position not be precisely identified, according to protocol. military.

“But we are holding on,” he added.

Ukrainian troops held positions south of Izium for two months, he said, adding he was confident he could stave off further attacks as long as Western military aid continued to arrive.

“We are ready for anything,” Oleh said, “but we need more heavy weapons, and on that we rely on our allies.”

As the war nears its fourth month, Western nations have dramatically increased their aid to Ukraine, an effort to tip the scales as the conflict drags on and costs more.

Late last week, the US Senate approved some $40 billion in aid to Ukraine, including lethal aid. The package, combined with aid approved in March, amounts to the largest foreign aid package passed by Congress in at least two decades.

The Russian government has warned that Western countries will pay unspecified consequences for helping Ukraine. On Saturday, Moscow’s Defense Ministry claimed it had hit a military depot west of kyiv filled with Western military equipment, a claim to which the Ukrainian government has not responded.

On Sunday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said he could not confirm whether the arms depot had been hit because he had not had the opportunity to consult with the Ukrainian government.

“What I can say is that we have what we think is a diverse and resilient supply chain for these weapons in Ukraine,” Sullivan said.

“So even if there is a circumstance where the Russians are able to target and strike ships on the ground in Ukraine, that is not going to fundamentally, from a strategic point of view, disrupt the military assistance that we provide. “, did he declare.

During a visit to kyiv on Sunday, Polish President Andrzej Duda said Ukraine alone should determine its future and that the international community should demand Russia’s complete withdrawal.

It would be a “devastating blow not only for the Ukrainian nation, but also for the entire Western world”, Mr Duda said, if even a tiny part of Ukraine were sacrificed in a peace agreement.

“Worrying voices have been heard saying that Ukraine should give in to Putin’s demands,” Duda said of the Russian president in what was the first speech by a foreign leader in Ukraine’s parliament since the start. of the war. “Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future.”

Mr Duda’s remarks came as the German, French and Italian governments suggested a ceasefire, calls which Ukraine angrily dismissed as selfish and untimely. Ukrainian officials – backed by some Eastern European governments – say Russia is hardly ready for serious peace talks and must be dealt a decisive blow to end the conflict once and for all. Kyiv says its forces have the momentum for war, despite heavy casualties.

Carlotta Gall reported from Donetsk region, Ukraine; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland; and Maria Abi Habib from Mexico City. Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Pokrovsk, Ukraine, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Tokyo.

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