Russian forces shelled frontline positions in Ukraine’s Donbass region as fighting increasingly focuses on Severodonetsk, the easternmost city still held by Ukrainian forces after more than 11 weeks of war .
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, said on Monday that Russian strikes had hit a hospital in the city over the weekend, killing two people and injuring nine, including a child – and several other places had been targeted.
Ukrainian forces repelled 17 attacks on Sunday, he added, and destroyed 11 Russian armored vehicles. The Air Force command said the Ukrainians shot down two helicopters, two cruise missiles and seven drones.
The Russians are gradually mounting an assault on Severodonetsk, an industrial city that had a population of 100,000 before the war, as the effort to complete a wider encirclement of Ukrainian defense forces in the Donbass appears to have failed.
Overnight, the American Institute for the Study of War said it believed “Russian forces have likely abandoned the goal of completing a full-scale encirclement of Ukrainian units from the city of Donetsk to Izium” in favor of capturing the rest of the Luhansk region, of which Severodonetsk is a part.
A smaller-scale encirclement of Severodonetsk also failed last week after Russian forces were defeated with heavy casualties in a series of failed attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets River at Bilohorivka. The river is increasingly becoming a dividing line between the two banks of the Donbass – the name given collectively to the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk – and around Kharkiv to the north.
The scale of the Bilohorivka defeat, in which more than 70 Russian vehicles were reportedly destroyed, based on aerial photographs of the battle site, has also led some Russian military bloggers to comment on “the incompetence of the Russian army by the hundreds”. of thousands of followers,” the institute said, a rare sign of internal dissent.
Haidai said fighting was taking place on Sunday north and south of Severodonetsk, which is one of the few Ukrainian-held places on the east bank of the river. Analysts believe there could be a long fight for the city.
Konrad Muzyka, the founder of Rochan Consulting, which specializes in open-source intelligence, said he believed the capture of Severodonetsk was weeks away. “Moscow…does not have the appropriate levels of manpower and equipment to take the city quickly,” he said in a weekly battle review.
British military intelligence estimated on Sunday that Russia had lost around a third of the ground combat force deployed in February, and that its Donbass offensive, which began in April, had fallen “significantly behind schedule”, making only gradual progress. .
On Monday, the British also pointed out that Belarus, which supports Russia, had announced the “deployment of special operations forces along the Ukrainian border” – most likely to “fix Ukrainian troops” in kyiv and Kharkiv in order to that they cannot strengthen the defending forces in the Donbass.
Overall, Russia has made significant territorial gains in the 11 weeks of fighting, capturing the southern coast from Kherson to Mariupol – where fighting around the steel plant continues – and 90% of Luhansk.
General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, said the West must consider “the peril of annexation” – that is, when Russia reaches a point where it thinks she can’t go any further and “can then run a series of sort of fake referendums [that] annexes a territory to the Russian Federation”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Barrons said Moscow could then try to argue that the territory seized now “lies behind the Russian nuclear deterrent”, which would make any Ukrainian counter-offensive more complex than kyiv. hope to ride in May and June.
Ukrainian forces successfully counter-attacked around Kharkiv, with the Russians leading a fighting withdrawal towards the border to the north and to the Siverskyi Donets to the east of the city. The city, which had more than a million inhabitants before the war, had been under siege since the beginning of the war.
Ukraine’s recapture of territory remains limited elsewhere, although its forces are increasingly bolstered by the arrival of Western military hardware. All but one of the 90 155mm howitzers pledged by the United States have been delivered, US officials said last week.
Ukrainian border guards also said they repelled a Russian attempt on Monday morning to send troops to the northern region of Sumy, far from the current front lines. The Border Service said Russian forces fired weapons in an attempt to cover a “sabotage and reconnaissance group” crossing the border from Russia.
Over the weekend, in western Ukraine near Poland, missiles destroyed military infrastructure and were fired at the Lviv region from the Black Sea, Ukrainian officials said. A missile strike took place in Odessa on Monday, destroying buildings, while 10 civilians were injured in the southern region of Mykolaiv, the regional council said.
Ukrainian troops received a morale boost after the country’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest over the weekend, with some saying it was a sign of battlefield victories to come. “We have shown that we can not only fight, but we can also sing very well,” said Vitaliy, a soldier housed north of Kyiv.