The head of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province said on Tuesday that “most of Severodonetsk” is under Russian control. Severodonetsk is the last major city in Luhansk, the northern province of the Donbas region, controlled by Ukraine. It has been the focus of intense fighting in recent weeks as Russia attempts to encircle the city with a prewar population of over 100,000. Severodonetsk’s fall to Russia seems imminent, as a report indicated on Tuesday that Ukrainian troops appear to be withdrawing from the city to refocus resources elsewhere.
“Most of Severodonetsk is controlled by the Russians. The city is not surrounded,” Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said on Tuesday.
Haidai added that while the city has not been completely encircled by Russian forces, shelling has made it “impossible to bring humanitarian goods to Severodonetsk, as well as to evacuate people.”
“The city’s critical infrastructure has been destroyed by almost 100%, 90% of the housing stock has been damaged,” Haidai said of the devastation caused by Russian shelling in Severodonetsk.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, D.C., based think tank, said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces appear to be withdrawing from Severodonetsk, allowing Russian forces to conquer the key city.
“Ukrainian forces are now apparently withdrawing from Severodonetsk rather than fighting to the end — a factor that has allowed the Russians to move into the city relatively rapidly after beginning their full-scale assault,” the ISW said.
However, the think tank noted that the decision to cede Severodonetsk to Russia is “strategically sound” given Ukraine’s limited resources.
“Both the decision to avoid committing more resources to saving Severodonetsk and the decision to withdraw from it were strategically sound, however painful,” the ISW said, adding that “Ukraine must husband its more limited resources and focus on regaining critical terrain rather than on defending ground whose control will not determine the outcome of the war or the conditions for the renewal of war.”
The ISW said that the Kremlin’s focus on taking Severodonetsk is “creating vulnerabilities” for Russia in other parts of Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces are staging counteroffensives to drive Russia out.
“Moscow’s focus on seizing Severodonetsk (and Donbas) is creating vulnerabilities for Russia in Kherson Oblast, where Ukrainian counter-offensives continue. Ukrainian leadership has apparently wisely avoided matching Putin’s mistaken prioritization.”
Last week, the mayor of Severodonetsk said that at least 1,500 people had been killed in fighting, and only about 12,000-13,000 civilians remain in the city.
Earlier this month, Haidai said that Moscow sees Severodonetsk as a war trophy, and capturing the city would be presented “as a huge victory” by the Kremlin.