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Hellish battles as Russia nears ‘tactical victory’ with two key cities in its sights

Ukraine admits troops holding out amid fierce fighting in Luhansk are on verge of being cut off

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A Ukrainian soldier holds radios during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 8. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP

A Ukrainian soldier holds radios during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 8. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP

A Ukrainian soldier holds radios during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 8. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP

Russia has taken several villages in the last few days, raising fears that its forces will soon be in a position to seize the strategically important cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The Russian advances have led to “hellish battles” in the area, the governor of Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said.

If Moscow’s army is able to encircle the two cities and cut off “the road of life” from Ukrainian-controlled territory, they would be likely to fall within days. That would give Russia control of the Luhansk region.

“The threat of a tactical Russian victory is there, but they haven’t done it yet,” Oleskiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said.

Mr Gaidai confirmed Russian forces had captured the villages of Pidlisne and Myrna Dolyna and were making a “partly successful” attack towards the settlement of Bila Gora, targeting police, state security and prosecutors’ buildings as they went.

“Hellish battles in Severodonetsk and surrounding villages, massive shelling on Lysychansk, and hostile attempts to cut the ‘road of life,’” he said in an update on social media. “The enemy is trying to establish full control over Severodonetsk.”

The advances bring the Russians closer to the T1302 highway linking the cities with Ukrainian-controlled territory, and leave Ukrainian forces in Zolote, a town guarding the southern flank of the Lysychansk salient, almost completely surrounded. “Victories and successes are colossal,” Andrei Marochko, an officer in the separatist army of Luhansk, told Russian state television.

In Zolote and Hirsk “there is a full encirclement of Ukrainian troops”, he said, also claiming “a group of foreign mercenaries” had been eliminated.

“Very soon (Ukrainian) groups in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk will also be surrounded,” he said.

Capturing Zolote would allow the Russians to approach Lysychansk on the right bank of the Siversky Donets river rather than trying to force a crossing.

Ukrainian commanders had hoped to use the river as the next line of defence against further Russian advances if and when Severodonetsk falls. Previous Russian attempts to force a crossing have ended in disaster.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been batting for Severodonetsk, the administrative capital of the Luhansk region, for nearly two months as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin seeks to capture the last Ukrainian-held part of the region.

Russian attempts to cut the T1302 have so far failed, and fierce fighting has seen parts of the town change hands more than once. But Ukrainian forces are now believed to be confined to an industrial facility to the east of the river.

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German journalists reporting in Lysychansk came under fire on the road as they left the city yesterday. Paul Ronzheimer, of Bild, said the town was “almost encircled” and posted a video of a shot-out window in his car.

The Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, called the development a “clear setback” for the Ukrainians, but said Russia could still face protracted battles to capture Lysychansk itself.

The separatist Donetsk People’s Republic has acknowledged more than 2,000 military personnel killed and almost 9,000 wounded since the beginning of the year, Britain’s Ministry of Defence says. That was equivalent to about 55pc of its original force.

Russia has also stepped up attacks on Kharkiv in an apparent attempt to reverse gains made by a Ukrainian counter-offensive in April and May.

President Zelensky accused the Russian army of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the region during his nightly video address on Tuesday. It came as an investigation into the death of a Ukrainian photo-journalist concluded he was murdered by Russian soldiers.

Reporters Without Borders said it had “overwhelming” evidence Maks Levin and his friend Oleksiy Chernyshov, a soldier, were killed “in cold blood” in a forest north of Kyiv in March.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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