Ukraine forces withdrawal from Severodonetsk

Kyiv: Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Severodonetsk after weeks of fierce fighting for the key city, a senior Ukrainian official said on Friday. This is a huge boost to Russia’s goal of seizing a swath of eastern Ukraine.
The announcement came shortly after the European Union granted Ukraine candidate status in a show of support for the former Soviet republic, though it still has a long way to go to become a member.
Russia has focused its offensive on the Donbass region, in eastern Ukraine, after being repelled from the capital Kyiv and other areas after the February invasion. His forces have gradually progressed despite meeting fierce resistance and suffering heavy losses.
The strategically important industrial hub of Severodonetsk has been the scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians stubbornly fought back.
But Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region, which includes Severodonetsk, said Ukrainian military forces in the city had been ordered to withdraw.
“Staying in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense,” he said on Telegram, adding that 90 percent of the city was damaged.
The Ukrainians had already been pushed out of much of the city, leaving them in control only of the industrial areas.
The capture of Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would give the Russians control of Luhansk and allow them to push further into the wider Donbas.
Gaiday said the Russians were now advancing towards Lysychansk, which has been facing intensifying Russian bombardment.
The situation of those who remain in the city is bleak.
Liliya Nesterenko said her house had no gas, water or electricity and that she and her mother were cooking over a campfire. She was riding a bicycle down the street and had gone out to feed the pets of a friend of hers. But the 39-year-old was optimistic about the city’s defenses: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (be able) to cope.”
A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine earlier told AFP that resistance by Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “futile and useless”.
“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the entire territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed Lugansk army.
On Friday, Marochko said on Telegram that all the villages in the neighboring areas of Zolote and Hirske were now under the control of Russian or pro-Russian forces.
In a video on Marochko’s Telegram channel, a man in military clothing can be seen replacing the Ukraine flag with the Zolote coat of arms with a red hammer and sickle flag.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that up to 2,000 people were “completely blocked” near Zolote and Hirske, and that about half of Zolote was under Russian control.
Russia has also stepped up its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days.
An AFP team on the scene heard loud explosions in the city center last night and in the morning saw that the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute had been hit by missiles, smashing windows and causing its roof to partially collapse.
According to an unnamed military official at the scene, the Russians “thought there might be something military there, but there wasn’t.”
In the southern Kherson region, a Moscow-appointed official was killed by an explosive device planted in his car, Russian news agencies reported. Moscow-appointed Kherson deputy chief Kirill Stremousov said the regional head of the family, youth and sports department had died “as a result of a terrorist act.”
It was the first confirmed death of a pro-Russian official during a series of attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Russian-held regions of Ukraine.
With Ukraine pleading for accelerated weapons deliveries, the United States announced it would send another $450 million in new weaponry, including HIMARS rocket systems, which can launch multiple missiles at an extended range.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that Ukraine was “grateful” to US President Joe Biden for the decision.
“This support is now more important than ever,” he said.
At a Brussels summit on Thursday, EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine, as well as Moldova.
Zelenskyy hailed the news as “a unique and historic moment.”
“Today it is recognized that Ukraine is not a bridge, not a pillow between the West and Russia, not a buffer between Europe and Asia, not a sphere of influence,” Zelenskyy said in a video addressed to Ukrainians on Friday.
“Ukraine is a future equal partner for at least 27 EU countries,” he added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Ukraine’s new EU candidacy status as an “internal European matter”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vigorously resisted what Moscow sees as attempts to bring the country into NATO.
But Ukraine’s NATO aspirations are far from realized and EU membership is at least years away.

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