The Russians are trying to blockade the city and consolidate gains in eastern Ukraine


Russian forces are attempting to cut off the strategic city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, the Luhansk regional governor said on Saturday after the relentless attack on nearby Sievierodonetsk forced Ukrainian troops to begin retreating.

Russia also launched missile attacks on areas far from the center of the eastern battles.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, said on Facebook that Russian and separatist fighters were trying to blockade Lysychansk from the south. The city is adjacent to Sieverodonetsk, which has been under relentless assault and house-to-house fighting for weeks.

Ukraine Donbas US-supplied weapons
Ukrainian soldiers camouflage a US-supplied M777 howitzer with branches after it was fired on Saturday, April 18.

Efrem Lukatsky / AP

Russian news agency Interfax quoted a spokesman for the separatist forces, Andrei Marochko, as saying that Russian troops and separatist fighters had entered Lysychansk and that fighting was taking place in the heart of the city. There was no immediate comment on the allegation from the Ukrainian side.

Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk were the focus of a Russian offensive aimed at seizing the entire Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and destroying the Ukrainian military defending it – the most capable and battle-hardened segment of the country’s armed forces.

The two cities and surrounding areas are the last major centers of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, 95% of which are under Russian and local separatist control. The Russians and separatists also control about half of Donetsk, the second province in Donbass.

The Russian bombardment reduced most of Sievierodonetsk to rubble and reduced its population from 100,000 to 10,000. Some Ukrainian troops, along with about 500 civilians, are holed up in the huge Azot chemical plant on the outskirts of the city. A separatist representative, Ivan Filiponenko, said the armed forces evacuated 800 civilians from the facility overnight, Interfax reported.

After Haidai said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had started withdrawing from Sievierodonetsk, military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said some of the troops were heading to Lysychansk. But Russian moves to cut off Lysychansk will bring little rest to these retreating troops.

About 1,000 kilometers to the west, four Russian missiles hit a “military object” in Yarowi, said Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy. He did not give further details of the target, but Yaroviv has a sizeable military base used for training fighters, including Foreigners who volunteered to fight for Ukraine.

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Russian missiles hit the Yaroviv base in March, killing 35 people. The Lviv region, although far from the front lines, came under fire at various points in the war as the Russian military worked to destroy fuel depots.

About 30 Russian rockets were also fired at the Zhytomyr region of central Ukraine on Saturday morning, killing a Ukrainian soldier, regional governor Vitaliy Buchenko said.

In the north, about 20 rockets were fired from Belarus into the Chernihiv region, the Ukrainian military said.

The Ukrainian air command announced that Russian Tu-22 long-range bombers from Belarus had been stationed for the first time. The neighboring country is home to Russian military units and was used as a staging area before Russia invaded Ukraine, but its own troops have not crossed the border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg on Saturday and told him during a televised portion of the meeting that Russia would supply Belarus with the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile system in the coming months.

Putin noted that the missiles can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads. Russia fired several Iskander missiles at Ukraine during the war.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in Washington, on Friday described Ukrainians’ withdrawal from Sieverodonetsk as a “tactical step backwards” to consolidate forces into positions where they can better defend themselves. This will add to Ukraine’s efforts to keep Russian forces pinned down in a small area for longer, the official said.

After a botched attempt to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, in the early stages of Invasion that began on February 24thRussian forces have shifted their focus to the Donbass, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Following repeated requests from Ukraine to its Western allies for heavier weapons to counter Russia’s firepower lead, four American medium-range rocket launchers arrived this week, with four more on the way.

The senior US defense official said Friday that more Ukrainian forces are training outside Ukraine to use the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and are expected back with weapons in their country by mid-July. The missiles can fly about 45 miles. In addition, 18 US coast and river patrol boats are to be deployed.

The official said there was no evidence that Russia intercepted weapons from the US and other nations to Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly threatened strikes or actually claimed to have hit such supplies.

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