The leadership of the Ukrainian army is confident. She regularly updates the world on the situation in the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region in the east of the country. The latest message from military governor Serhiy Hajdaj on Saturday morning: 5,000 Russian soldiers are trapped. "They now have three courses of action: either they can try to break out, or they surrender. Or they all die together."
From the Kremlin, on the other hand, there was a roaring silence on the situation on the ground. An imminent defeat in the Battle of Lyman does not fit the picture that Putin and his followers wanted to paint on Friday with their howls of triumph at the illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kharkiv.
Of course, the Ukrainian leadership will also try to paint the picture they want, but a number of military experts also see the Battle of Lyman in a decisive phase - and the Ukrainian army at an advantage.
Around 21,000 people once lived in Lyman. No one knows how many there are now, how many have died or fled. Despite its manageable size, the city has immense strategic importance, as a glance at the map reveals. The railway line between the major cities of Kharkiv and Horlivka runs through the city, a marshalling yard with dozens of tracks occupies a significant part of its area. The route is not only the entry and exit gate for the industrial centers in the Donbass, it also plays an important role for supplies and troop movements in other regions. Important road links in the region also converge in Lyman, the "Gateway to Donbass".
The city was taken by Russian troops at the end of May - the Ukrainian military had withdrawn at the time. In the course of its offensive in the east of the country, however, Kiev's army has been able to gain considerable ground in recent months and, according to its own statements, has now completely surrounded Lyman after heavy fighting. According to the AFP news agency, the Donetsk occupation chief Denis Puschilin has now admitted this, but announced that he wanted to hold on to the city with his “last strength”. An undertaking that is apparently becoming more difficult by the hour. The US think tank Institute for the Study of War, citing military bloggers loyal to the Kremlin, also spoke of an encirclement of the city, and that the last escape and supply route for the Russian troops had become impassable for them.
The impending collapse of the Kremlin troops in the small town would mean a new defeat for Russia on the battlefield, presumably the heaviest so far in the war against Ukraine. Their army is now also calling on the estimated 5,000 occupiers to surrender via loudspeaker announcements - according to unconfirmed reports, however, the Russian soldiers are forbidden by their leadership from surrendering.
A Ukrainian success at Lyman would mean the abrupt loss of a major military force to the Russian army, whether through capture on a massive scale or through the threat of soldiers dying. A disaster for the morale of the Russian army, and a weakening for Putin militarily and propagandistically. He would lose part of the areas that he had only declared annexed on Friday - possibly for a long time and with an uncertain future in the region. Strategically, the Ukrainian army would initially have an advantage there. "First of all, he has to manage to build up a front again in order to counterattack," said military expert Carol Masala in the latest edition of the stern podcast "Ukraine – the situation" with a view to the fight for Lyman. "It's a very complex and complicated situation."
Lyman awaits the fate of Balaklija, the Russian nationalist military blog Rybar recently warned. With the recapture of Balaklija, the Ukrainian troops had launched a major offensive in the Kharkiv region, as a result of which Kyiv regained control of almost the entire region and forced the Russian troops into a hasty retreat. Should Ukraine succeed in capturing Lyman, it would open the way for the Ukrainian military to Svatove and Kreminna, and thus deep into the Luhansk region, which Moscow had largely brought under its own control since the summer.
The liberation of Lyman would be proof that the Russians are not succeeding in stabilizing the front in the north of the Donbass in the long term. Kyiv, on the other hand, could use the momentum and move the front further: the "gate to the Donbass" would be open.
Sources: Ukrainian Military Governor, Radio Free Europe, Institute for the Study of War, pro-Kremlin military blog "Rybar", ntv, DPA and AFP news agencies