- Russia seeks to encircle Ukrainian forces
- Kyiv says 25 battalions were involved in the attack
- Germany says Putin should not dictate any peace terms
Kyiv/Svetlodarsk, Ukraine, May 26 (Reuters) – Advancing Russian forces approached surrounding Ukrainian forces in the east, briefly capturing positions on the last highway outside two important Ukraine-controlled cities before being defeated, an official said. Ukrainian. He said on Thursday.
Russia sent thousands of soldiers into its offensive in the eastern Donbass region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces at Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk. The fall of the cities would bring almost the entire Luhansk province under Russian control, a major goal in the Kremlin’s war.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk Province, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were retreating, but said that the last way out of Lysechhansk and Severodonetsk, which runs on the Severodonetsk River, is still outside Russian control.
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In an interview posted on social media, Gaidai said that “about 50” Russian soldiers had arrived at the Ukrainian-controlled Lysichansk-Bakhmut highway, and “were able to gain a foothold for some time. They even set up some kind of checkpoint there.” .
He added, “The barrier was broken and they were pushed back. That is, the Russian army does not control the road now, but they are bombing it.”
“Since the first day, the whole area, and all the army positions, have been bombed. Many of our fortified buildings have been destroyed,” Geday said. “It is clear that our boys are slowly retreating to more fortified positions – we need to fend off this crowd.”
He hinted at further Ukrainian withdrawals, saying that the troops could leave “one settlement, maybe two. We need to win the war, not the battle.”
Western military analysts see the Battle of the Two Cities as a potential turning point in the war, now that Russia has set its main objective as the capture of the East.
Reuters journalists working in Russian-controlled territory to the south have seen evidence of Moscow’s advance in the town of Svetlodarsk, where Ukrainian forces withdrew earlier this week.
The city is now under the strict control of pro-Russian fighters, who have occupied the local government building and hung a red flag bearing the Soviet hammer and sickle on the door.
Drone footage filmed by Reuters reporters of the deserted battlefield nearby showed dozens of craters in a green field surrounded by smashed buildings. The pro-Russian fighters were wandering in the trenches.
Russia’s latest gains in the Donbass follow the surrender of the Ukrainian garrison in Mariupol last week, and signal a shift in momentum on the battlefield after weeks of Ukrainian forces advancing near Kharkiv in the northeast.
Defense analyst Michael Kaufman, director of Russia studies at the US-based CNA Research Center, tweeted that “recent Russian gains provide a sobering examination of the near-term outlook.”
He wrote that Russian forces had breached Ukrainian lines at Popasna, south of Severodonetsk, and were threatening to encircle Ukrainian forces.
“The extent of the threat of such a breach in Pupasna depends on the overall position of Ukraine on whether or not Russian forces gain momentum. This in turn depends on the availability of force, reserves, and logistics to support this advance.”
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser, Vadim Denisenko, said in a press briefing that the situation is very tense, as 25 Russian battalions tried to surround the Ukrainian forces. A full-strength battalion includes about 800 soldiers.
“Everything is now focused on Donbass.”
Three months after invading Ukraine, Russia has abandoned its assault on the capital, Kyiv, and is trying to consolidate its control over the eastern industrial Donbass region, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014.
The Russian advance was supported by intense artillery bombardment. The Ukrainian Armed Forces said that more than 40 towns in the region were bombed in the past 24 hours, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and schools.
Global attention this week focused on Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which has halted exports from one of the world’s largest suppliers of grain and cooking oil. The United Nations says the blockade could exacerbate world hunger.
Western countries demanded that Moscow lift the blockade. Russia says Western financial sanctions on Russia are to blame for the food crisis, although it has not explained how this relates to its naval blockade of Ukrainian ports.
“We do not categorically accept these accusations. On the contrary, we blame Western countries for taking measures that led to this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
Peskov said Moscow expected Ukraine to accept its demands in any future peace talks. It has demanded Kyiv accept Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which Moscow captured in 2014, and recognize the independence of the territory claimed by separatists.
Kyiv rejects those demands. Addressing dignitaries in Davos, Switzerland, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Russian President Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to dictate the terms of any peace deal.
“There will be no peace for granted,” Schultz said. Ukraine will not accept this and neither will we,” he said.
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Additional coverage by Max Hander in Kyiv and Reuters journalists in Svetlodarsk Writing by Peter Graf Editing by Gareth Jones
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