Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian troops will withdraw from the besieged city in the eastern part of the country to avoid a siege after weeks of intense fighting, a regional governor said Friday.
The city of Siver Donetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, faces relentless Russian bombing. Ukrainian troops fought house-to-house with the Russians before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the edge of the city, where they hid in sprawling underground structures.
In recent days, Russian troops have made progress in West Virodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysichansk, on the steep bank across the river, with a view to encircling Ukrainian troops.
Ukrainian troops have been ordered to leave Siviero Donetsk to prevent this from happening, Luhansk Governor Serchy Heyday said.
“We’re going to have to withdraw our people,” he said. “There is no point in remaining in destroyed positions, as the number of casualties in weakly defended areas increases every day.”
Ukrainian troops “received orders to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there,” Khadai said, without giving further details.
The Russians were also advancing towards Lysichansk from Zolot and Toshkivka, he said, adding that Russian reconnaissance forces made raids on the edge of the city but were driven away by the defenders.
The governor added that a bridge on the highway to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian airstrike, rendering trucks unusable. This claim could not be independently verified.
Four Ukrainian battalions and a “foreign mercenary” force of some 2,000 soldiers have been “completely blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday.
In the early days of the invasion, which began on February 24, after a failed attempt to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russian forces shifted their focus to the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The Russian military controls about 95 percent of Luhansk province and about half of neighboring Donetsk province, which make up the Donbass.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has repeatedly asked his Western allies to provide heavy weapons to counter Russia’s superiority in firepower, and has said it has responded in the form of U.S. medium-range rocket launchers.
A U.S. defense official confirmed on Wednesday that all four of the promised High Mobility Rocket Artillery Systems (HIMARS) were in the hands of the Ukrainian military, but said it was unclear whether they were already in use.
The U.S. approved the supply of precision-guided systems in late May, and once they enter the region, Ukrainian forces need about three weeks of training to operate them. The rocket can fly about 45 miles (70 kilometers).
U.S. officials announced Thursday that the United States will provide Ukraine with an additional $450 million in military aid, including four additional medium-range rocket systems, ammunition and other supplies.
In other developments:
A pro-Moscow government official in the southern city of Kherson, captured by Russian troops early in the invasion, was killed in Friday’s bombing.
The pro-Russian regional government of Kherson said Dmitry Savlyuchenko died when his vehicle exploded in what he called a “terrorist attack”.
No responsibility was immediately claimed.
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