Russia renews attack on Key Eastern City as progress by both sides is slow

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Ukrainian and Russian forces dealt new blows near Sievierodonetsk on Sunday, military authorities and analysts said as Moscow renewed its advance towards the city, one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in a significant part of the east. .

The battle for Sievierodonetsk has emerged as another pivotal point in the war as Russia struggles to achieve victories. After the failed attacks on the capital Kiev and the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, the Russian army has regrouped and appears to be concentrating on conquering the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. A victory in Sievierodonetsk would put Russian forces in control of Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the region.

Moscow has already suffered heavy losses in its advance towards the city, but by taking the city, its forces can launch an attack on Kramatorsk, Ukraine’s regional military command in the west. At the same time, Ukraine’s western allies are racing Howitzers and other long-range weapons to the front lines to bolster the resistance.

The ongoing battle is also a sign of Moscow’s shrinking military objectives as the war approaches the three-month mark. Conquering all of Ukraine in one go has proved unattainable for Moscow, but Russian forces have managed to break down the country slowly and make their way from east to west.

In Sievierodonetsk, Russian troops tried to breach the city’s defenses from four directions on Sunday. But neither side has been able to substantially move the front line in its favor through the chaotic battlefield landscape, dominated by farmland and small mining towns and villages that have been largely abandoned.

Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Ukrainian military administration in Luhansk, said Russian forces were retreating to their previous positions, repulsed by Ukrainian forces. The Russian army continued to fire mortar shells into residential areas of Sievierodonetsk, damaging at least seven homes.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Haidai said Ukraine’s National Guard destroyed a piece of heavy artillery, a Pawn, that Russian troops had used to shell Sievierodonetsk and destroy a bridge connecting it with the city of Lysychansk on the other side of the Seversky River. Donets River.

Mr Haidai said Russian propagandists had boasted of the weapon’s whereabouts, allowing the city’s defenders to target it more accurately. “The punishment came quickly,” he wrote on Telegram, a messaging app.

The Ukrainian army said it also destroyed Russian vehicles and a pontoon bridge over the Seversky Donets near the town of Serebrianka, about 20 miles west of Sievierodonetsk. A Ukrainian military statement described Russia’s plan to cross the river as “mission impossible.”

Originating in Russia and winding southeast through the Donbas region, the 650-mile river posed a major natural obstacle to the Russian offensive. Some of the invasion force’s greatest losses so far in the war this month have come while attempting to cross the river.

As a sign of the offensive’s importance to Moscow’s strategic planners, Russia has deployed a company of Terminator armored vehicles for the fighting that was part of the failed offensive against Kiev, according to a report from British military intelligence released on Sunday.

“However, with a maximum of 10 terminators deployed, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign,” the report said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington investigative body that monitors the conflict, said on Saturday that Russian forces had “stepped up efforts to surround and capture Sievierodonetsk,” an effort likely to continue as their advances elsewhere in the region has largely come to a standstill. Donbas region.

Russian forces in the city of Izium, further west, have been trying to penetrate south into the Donbas region for weeks, but their offensive has been stalled by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

For weeks, Ukrainian and Russian forces have been engaged in a grueling war of attrition, often fierce fighting over small areas. A village may fall into Russian hands one day, only to be recaptured by the Ukrainians a few days later.

The Ukrainian army said on Sunday that Russian troops attacked several places along the frontline in the east. An assessment of the war published early Sunday night described intense artillery fire on largely deserted towns and villages.

In the north of the Donetsk city of Sloviansk, which Russian forces have attempted to capture, Russian artillery bombarded Ukrainian positions and carried out intrusive strikes that were repulsed, the Ukrainian military report said.

Farther east, Russian forces attacked two frontline villages – Prudnovka and Aleksandrovka – with mortar and artillery fire, but also failed to advance, according to the assessment.

On Sunday, Ukrainian troops in positions south of Izium watched the front line as artillery and mortar shells pierced the air.

“They’re trying to do it little by little all the time,” said Oleh, 56, commander of a volunteer unit south of Izium, who asked not to identify their frontline position exactly, according to military protocol.

“But we are holding out,” he added.

Ukrainian forces held positions south of Izium for two months, he said, adding that he was confident to ward off further attacks as long as Western military aid continued to arrive.

“We are prepared for anything,” said Oleh, “but we need more heavy weapons and we rely on our allies for that.”

As the war approaches its fourth month, Western countries have significantly increased aid to Ukraine, attempting to tip the balance as the conflict grows longer and more expensive.

Late last week, the US Senate approved about $40 billion in aid to Ukraine, including lethal aid, and it was signed by President Biden on Saturday. The package, combined with the aid approved in March, amounts to the largest foreign aid package approved by Congress in at least two decades.

The Russian government has warned that Western countries will pay unspecified consequences for helping Ukraine. On Saturday, the Moscow Ministry of Defense claimed it had hit a military depot west of Kiev filled with Western military equipment, a claim the Ukrainian government has not addressed.

On Sunday, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said he could not confirm whether the weapons depot had been hit because he had not had a chance to consult the Ukrainian government.

“What I can say is that in Ukraine we have what we believe to be a diverse and resilient supply chain for these weapons,” Mr Sullivan said.

“So even if there is a circumstance where the Russians are able to hit and hit ships on the ground in Ukraine, from a strategic perspective that will not fundamentally disrupt the military aid we are providing,” he said.

Visiting Kiev on Sunday, Polish President Andrzej Duda said that Ukraine alone should determine its future and that the international community should demand the complete withdrawal of Russia.

It would be a “huge blow not only to the Ukrainian nation, but also to the entire Western world,” Mr Duda said, if even a small part of Ukraine were sacrificed in a peace deal.

“Trusting voices have emerged saying Ukraine must yield to Putin’s demands,” Mr Duda said of the Russian president in what was a foreign leader’s first speech to Ukraine’s parliament since the war started. “Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future.”

Mr Duda’s comments came as the German, French and Italian governments proposed a ceasefire, calls Ukraine has angrily rejected as selfish and ill-timed. Ukrainian officials — backed by some Eastern European governments — say Russia is barely ready for serious peace talks and must deal a decisive blow to end the conflict once and for all. Kiev claims its armed forces have momentum in the war despite significant losses.

Carlotta Gallo reported from the Donetsk region, in Ukraine; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland; and Maria Abi Habib from Mexico City. Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Pokrovsk, Ukraine, and Zolan Kanno Youngs from Tokyo.

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