Lifeline bridge into Severodonetsk blown up as fleeing Ukrainian civilians shelled
Russia yesterday called on Ukrainian soldiers in Severodonetsk to surrender after it blew up the last bridge into the city, trapping all those left behind in one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the war.
Kyiv’s forces were told to “stop their senseless resistance and lay down their arms” by Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of Russia’s National Defence Management Centre.
Fighting in the industrial city that would give Russia total control of Luhansk, one half of the Donbas region, has raged door to door, with video from the front line showing soldiers desperately firing from close range.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said the price of the battle was “terrifyingly high”, describing it as one of the most brutal in European history.
With two of the bridges from Severodonetsk into the neighbouring town of Lysychansk already destroyed, Ukraine had been relying on the only crossing left to ferry in supplies and evacuate civilians.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, said humanitarian convoys came under shelling on around half of their crossings. Craters covered the bridge’s asphalt while burned-out vehicles partially blocked the road.
In one video from inside the city, Ukrainian troops were seen trying to escort an elderly woman with a broken, bloody arm to safety.
In another, a woman repeatedly makes the sign of the cross under heavy shelling.
In his daily video update, Mr Haidai insisted Russia had not “completely captured” the key
city and he said that “part of the city” was still under Ukrainian control.
However, he admitted that Moscow has used its “significant advantage in artillery” to launch ground assaults on the city
centre, using the bombardment to push Ukrainian defenders out of the area.
“The Russians are destroying quarter after quarter,” he said.
Some 15,000 civilians are thought to be stranded in Severodonetsk now with no escape west to Lysychansk, which is also being shelled but remains in Ukrainian hands.
The remaining residents are being forced to survive in “extremely difficult conditions”, Mr Haidai added.
In a separate post on the Telegram messaging app, Mr Haidai said civilians had been forced to flee a “real hell” while under attack by constant Russian shelling.
He said escape routes were fraught with danger with residents “running under fire” and only able to move onward under the cover of darkness.
“The shelling is so powerful that people can no longer stand in the shelters,” he wrote. “But we cannot lose as long as it is possible to save at least one life – we will save.”
There are mounting fears Severodonetsk could develop into another Mariupol, the southern Ukrainian port left virtually razed to the ground after months of Russian bombardment.
Russian forces have almost constantly bombarded the huge Azot chemical plant, where 500 people, including 40 children, are sheltering in bunkers.
The attacks have thrown clouds of toxic chemicals, used to produce nitrogen fertilisers, into the atmosphere as conditions on the ground deteriorate.
Mr Haidai said that Ukrainian negotiators had so far failed in their talks with Moscow to evacuate civilians from the plant.
“We are trying to agree, with the help of (Ukrainian deputy prime minister) Irina Vereshchuk, to organise a corridor,” he said. “So far it has been unsuccessful.
“Azot’s shelters are not as strong as in Mariupol’s Azovstal, so we need to take people out with security guarantees.”
The mayor of Severodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, yesterday said civilian evacuations would continue despite the bridge’s destruction.
He said they were being done “one by one, and every possible chance is taken”.
The West has pledged more weapons to boost Ukraine’s battle for the Donbas but Kyiv said yesterday that the country had received just 10pc of the weapons it had requested.
“From what we said we need, we got about 10pc,” Anna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defence said, adding that it was crucial that the West should speed up its delivery schedule.
“We need to know clear deadlines because every day there’s a delay, we’re talking about the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians,” she said.
“We can’t wait very long, because the situation is very complicated,” she added, referring to the creeping Russian advance in the Donbas battleground. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
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