After three months of intense heavy artillery, aviation and mortar attacks, Russian troops yesterday managed to penetrate the outskirts of Severodonetsk, the most important city of Lugansk in Ukrainian hands and key in the battle for Donbass. The governor of Lugansk, Sergei Gaidai, admitted that the Kremlin soldiers have taken up positions on the northwestern and southeastern outskirts of the town and that the harsh offensive yesterday killed two residents and injured five others who were cooking with firewood in the outside the building where they were sheltering. In addition, the authorities reported heavy hand-to-hand fighting preventing the evacuation of civilians and the collection of bodies, making it difficult to estimate the true number of casualties.
The municipal official Roman Vlasenko admitted yesterday that “the fighting has moved to the outskirts of Severodonetsk because the enemy managed to advance from two directions, Novoaydar and Starobilsk, until penetrating about a hundred meters into the city. He was unable to advance significantly because our men continue to defend themselves."
On Sunday, Gaidai had indicated that a partial withdrawal of the Ukrainians was being studied after the seizure, at the hands of Chechen troops allied with the Kremlin, of the Mir hotel, located in the north of the town, although he later ruled out a tactical withdrawal that each The hour that passes makes more sense, given that Russia continues to reinforce its troops from nearby fronts under its control with weapons, ammunition and personnel. In any case, the presence of Chechen troops -the pro-Russian leader Ramzan Kadyrov declared the occupation of the city complete three days ago on his Telegram channel, although the videos that arrive from Severodonetsk and where hand-to-hand combat is seen deny it- it is worrying.
According to the Ukrainian high command, the Russian objective is to surround both Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, the other Ukrainian stronghold located some thirty kilometers away, and cut off the main supply lines while Moscow troops advance from the towns of Bobrove and Ustinivka. Local authorities warn that Severodonetsk is about to "become a new Mariupol," and Mayor Oleksander Striuk told the AP that at least 1,500 civilians have been killed in the city, once home to 100,000, since the start of the the invasion. Governor Gaidai stressed that "90% of buildings in Severodonetsk have been damaged and more than two-thirds of houses have been completely destroyed." However, he noted that Ukrainian forces had pushed Russian troops south from the village of Toshkivka, which could thwart Moscow's attempt to encircle the area imminently.
The Ukrainian Army also reported heavy fighting around Donetsk, the regional capital, as well as Liman, a small town that serves as a key railway hub in the region, the occupation of which will reinforce the offensive against the cities of Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, the capital. administrative area of Donetsk province under Ukrainian control.
Maintaining what little control it had of the Donbass seems almost impossible for kyiv. President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted yesterday that the situation there is "indescribably difficult" for the Ukrainians. "Capturing Severodonetsk is a fundamental objective for the occupiers and we do everything possible to prevent this advance," he said in a speech.
The evacuation of civilians from the city, which is usually conditioned by the fragile situation of the only road that leads to the west of the country, subjected to intense artillery fire, was interrupted yesterday after the attack on an armored rescue ambulance that claimed the life of the French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff. The same situation applies to Lisichansk, the other city under Ukrainian control in the middle of the route, in the vicinity of which heavy fighting took place yesterday and where Russian bombardments are used thoroughly. “The city is under fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The logistics are very difficult, we cannot deliver humanitarian aid or evacuate the civilian population because, with few exceptions, there are no safe opportunities to act."
One of the last evacuees from the city was Victoria, 49 years old and in charge of her mother, Valentina, 87, who last Saturday lay prostrate in a bed in the open evacuation center in the town of Slaviansk, also under Russian fire. . "She lived through World War II, why should she go through this again? Did she not she had enough with that war », her daughter despaired while the old woman moaned in pain and fear.
Victoria, who had arrived in Slaviansk the day before, recounted three terrifying months. "They have been bombing Severodonetsk since the first day of the war," she lamented, "with rockets and missiles, from the ground and from the air, everything has been destroyed." The woman recounted that before the invasion her mother used to walk the streets every day, but since the beginning of the hostilities she lost all mobility due to stress and fear and today she cannot get up. .
Since he couldn't take her to the basement during the bombardment, they both stayed in their house, without windows due to the blast wave and with the stairs damaged by an artillery attack. "In the last month, the walls were shaking all the time from the force of the explosions," the woman detailed. «We had no electricity or water or gas for two months, every day I was forced to go out between one and two hours to look for water, sometimes in bombed and abandoned houses, other times I went near sources. We have been cooking with firewood for a month, cooking potatoes and pasta from the little humanitarian aid that arrives », she continued, showing her hands blackened by ash. "As there was no light, we made candles with potatoes and fat to light us up."
The woman described an apocalyptic vision every time she walked the streets. “Everything, everything is damaged. There is not a single crystal left in the city. The window frames have disappeared from all the buildings, and all the cars and buses seem unusable.' Despite this, the flight to Slaviansk leaves both of them in a very delicate situation. "I don't even have money to buy bread. The volunteers gave us no choice, they took us out on buses and here I have nowhere to live and no means to rent a room. In Dnipro they say that there is no longer free housing. Where am I supposed to go? My mother needs medication and I have nothing to pay for it."
Victoria blames Zelensky for not having reached an agreement with Russia to stop the war and attacks the Ukrainian government. “I don't care if I'm governed by Russians or Ukrainians, I just want to be able to live in my house. If it's still standing, it's the only place I have to live, with either Russians or Ukrainians in charge." Like her, other residents of Donbas are kidnapped by fighting that seizes the properties that constitute her entire heritage.