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Ukrainian troops may have to pull out of key Donbas city as Chechen forces advance

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A Ukrainian soldier walks as seeds burn in a grain silo in the Donetsk region after it was shelled by Russian forces. Photo: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko

A Ukrainian soldier walks as seeds burn in a grain silo in the Donetsk region after it was shelled by Russian forces. Photo: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko

A Ukrainian soldier walks as seeds burn in a grain silo in the Donetsk region after it was shelled by Russian forces. Photo: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko

Ukrainian troops may have to abandon Severodonetsk, a senior official warned yesterday, as Chechen troops boasted of marching into the centre of the key Donbas city.

There were fierce street battles as Russian forces seized positions in “around half” of the city, the last large Ukrainian-held city in the eastern region of Luhansk.

In a post on the Telegram messaging app, the Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov said his troops had reached the centre of Severodonetsk and were marching towards the industrial area, where soldiers and civilians were said to be sheltering.

With Kyiv’s remaining resistance fighters almost encircled by Russian units, Serhiy Haidai, the region’s governor, conceded they may have to retreat to safety across the Siverskyi Donets river.

Mr Haidai said that crossing the river to Lysychansk could allow Ukrainian forces to limit losses on the battlefield as Russia intensifies its attempts to capture the city.

“Our troops still remain in the city and for the time being are still resisting the Russian army,” he told the BBC.

“But if they need to withdraw to the other side of the river, closer to Lysychansk, in order to preserve troops then they will probably do so.”

As part of a large-scale assault on the Donbas, Russian troops have spent weeks closing in on the neighbouring cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, whose capture would hand Moscow control of half of the eastern region. So far the Kremlin’s forces have failed in their attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets river, which would allow them to fully encircle the two cities.

Russia has used long-range weapons to pummel defensive formations before launching ground assaults on the heavily dug-in positions of Ukraine’s resistance fighters. With Kyiv’s troops forced to shelter from the constant shelling, they have struggled to contain the advances by Russia’s invasion force into the centre of Severodonetsk.

In a social media post, Mr Kadyrov said his forces had “liberated” the city.

“The situation in Severodonetsk... the residential sector is completely under control,” he said.

“We are moving along the main street towards the industrial zone.”

Many of the civilians in Severodonetsk have been holed up in bomb shelters below the Azot chemical plant.

An accompanying video posted on Mr Kadyrov’s Telegram channel appeared to show a number of Chechen soldiers walking through virtually deserted streets, with only the occasional passer-by. It went on to show the pro-Kremlin troops meeting residents. It was not possible to independently verify all of the contents of the video.

Aleksandr Stryuk, the mayor of Severodonetsk, confirmed Russian forces were yesterday in control of “around half” of the city, but insisted it had not fallen under Moscow’s control.

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“Unfortunately, the front line is dividing the city in half, but the city is still defending itself,” he told a Ukrainian television channel. “The city is still Ukrainian.”

Mr Stryuk urged civilians to remain in hiding after an evacuation convoy was attacked by Russian troops on Monday, killing a French journalist covering the escape of civilians.

“Evacuation is halted for now,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is not possible because of the fighting.” He maintained that there were enough humanitarian supplies left in Severodonetsk to last a few days.

In his morning update, Mr Haidai said: “The situation is very complicated – part of Severodonetsk is controlled by the Russians.”

He said Ukrainian forces would be able to push back Russian advances if deliveries of western weapons were accelerated.

“We’ll keep fighting until we receive enough weaponry from the West in order to stop the Russian army from a distance,” Mr Haidai said. With long-range artillery, he insisted, troops could disrupt Russian shelling.

“When long-range artillery arrives, which has a range of at least 40km, then we’ll be able to destroy enemy artillery and the Russian army,” he said.

Ten civilians were injured yesterday in attacks, the regional governor added.

However, despite the Russian gains, he said Moscow’s forces were unable to “move freely through the city” with resistance fighters still
present.

Meanwhile, local officials yesterday warned the remaining residents in Severodonetsk to prepare for a dangerous chemical leak after Russia reportedly hit a nitric acid plant in the city with an aerial strike. Civilians were urged to go into hiding and prepare protective masks to protect themselves. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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