Ukrainian forces will retreat from Severodonetsk after weeks of fierce fighting over the key city, a senior Ukrainian official said Friday, in a major boost to Russia’s goal of seizinga swathe of eastern Ukraine.
The announcement came shortly after the European Union granted Ukraine candidate status in a show of support for the former Soviet republic, although there is still a long path ahead to membership.
Russia has focused its offensive on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after being repelled from the capital Kyiv and other areas following the February invasion. Its forces have gradually made progress despite encountering fierce resistance and sustaining heavy losses.
“Despite the growing loss of personnel and equipment, Russians continue to outnumber the (Ukrainian) defence forces in artillery” in certain areas, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesman, told reporters on Friday.
“This allows them to gain some tactical success,” Motuzyanyk added. The strategically important industrial hub of Severodonetsk has been the scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians put up a stubborn defence.
But Sergiy Gaiday, the governor of the Lugansk region which includes Severodonetsk, said that Ukrainian military forces in the city had received an order to withdraw.
“Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense,” he said on Telegram, adding that 90 percent of the city had been damaged.
The Ukrainians had already been pushed back from much of the city, leaving them in control of only industrial areas.
“The Ukrainian army is still in Severodonetsk, it will take them some time to retire,” head of the city’s military administration Roman Vlasenko told Radio Svoboda — the Prague-based Russian-language wing of the US-funded Radio Free Europe.
Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would give the Russians control of Lugansk, and allow them to push further into the wider Donbas.