Ukraine said it staged a counterattack on the frontline city of Sievierodonetsk and recaptured a fifth of the city it had previously lost to Russian invaders, according to the region’s leader.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk oblast, told Ukrainian television that Russian forces were losing recent gains in the easternmost city held by Kyiv in the Donbass region, where fighting has been concentrated.
The governor said Russia had “previously managed to capture most of the city” – but added in a tweet that the army had pushed them back by 20%. “They are really taking huge losses,” he said.
Such claims are hard to verify amid heavy fighting, which has seen Russian invaders concentrating their forces in an attempt to encircle and capture the city over the past two weeks, advancing at a speed of 500m to 1km per day.
British Defense Intelligence said on Saturday that Russia had been able to combine “air strikes and massive artillery fire to assert its overwhelming firepower” and thus support “its creeping advance”.
But the Brits said it came at a cost. The use of “unguided munitions led to the widespread destruction of built-up areas in Donbass”. Film released by Haidai early Saturday showed buildings damaged and on fire, while shelling was heard nearby.
Haidai acknowledged that the situation for the Ukrainians in Sievierodonetsk remained difficult, but said he believed the defenders could now hold out for another fortnight. A Russian victory within that time frame was “not realistic”, he added.
After that, the governor said he hoped the new Western Himars multiple-launch rocket systems could tip the balance in Ukraine’s favor, by allowing Ukraine to target them from a greater distance than previously.
“But as soon as we have enough long-range Western weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry, they will just run,” the governor added.
Foreign fighters from countries including Australia, Georgia, France and Brazil were also deployed by Ukraine in Sievierdonetsk, according to a video report released on Friday. It features an interview with a masked soldier speaking clearly in an Australian accent, saying he had “stepped up” to join the fighting.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Friday that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had told him that Russia would now “accelerate” the invasion. New tactics that “will significantly increase the effectiveness of offensive maneuvers” have been identified, Kadyrov added.
But in an overnight assessment, the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank that closely follows the conflict, said it was skeptical of the claims made. Regarding accelerating the pace of advance, the Institute said it believed “Russian forces would probably not be able to do this.”.
In the Odessa region of southern Ukraine on Saturday morning, a missile hit an agricultural storage unit, injuring two people, the spokesman for the regional administration wrote on Telegram.
Ukraine said it also shot down four other cruise missiles launched from a submarine in the Black Sea – while the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane near Odessa.
Two people died and at least two were injured in the Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure in the northeastern Kharkiv region on Friday, Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported, citing emergency services.
Russian authorities began issuing Russian passports in Kherson and Melitopol on Friday, according to the Institute for the Study of War, while the Ukrainian military said the occupiers faced growing resistance in the southern region, which had forced Moscow to reinforce its troops there.