After losing Luhansk, Ukrainian forces concentrated on the defense of Donetsk

  • The city of Lysizansk is ‘no more’ – resident
  • Putin has won a huge victory in the 5-month war
  • Next is the Battle of Donetsk
  • Ukraine hopes for a southern counterattack

KYIV, July 5 (Reuters) – Russian forces set their sights on their next objective in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in neighboring Luhansk province.

Sunday’s capture of Lysizansk completed a Russian victory over Luhansk, one of two regions in Ukraine’s industrialized eastern Donbass, which has become the site of the biggest war in Europe for generations.

Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the fighting for Luhansk, particularly during the siege of the twin cities of Lysizansk and Severodonetsk. Both cities were devastated by incessant Russian bombing.

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Nina, a young mother who sought refuge in the central city of Dnipro, said: “That city is no more.”

“It’s practically wiped off the face of the earth. There’s no humanitarian aid center, it’s been hit. The building that housed the center is no longer there. As are many of our homes.”

On Tuesday Ukrainian forces took up new defensive lines in Donetsk, where they still control key towns, while Putin told his troops to “completely rest and restore their military readiness” while units in other areas battled it out.

According to Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrilenko, Russian forces shelled the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk overnight.

“Now they are the enemy’s main attack,” he said of the cities. “There is no safe place without shelling in the Donetsk region.”

Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has demanded that Ukraine hand over both Luhansk and Donetsk to pro-Moscow separatists.

“This is the last victory for Russia on the territory of Ukraine,” Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a video posted online.

“These are medium-sized cities. It took April 4th to July 4th — that’s 90 days. A lot of losses.”

Apart from the battle for Donetsk, Arestovich said he hopes to launch a counteroffensive in the south of Ukraine.

“If we take the cities in the east, 60% of the Russian forces are now concentrated in the east, and it will be difficult for them to be diverted to the south,” he said.

“And there were no troops that could be brought from Russia. They paid a heavy price for Severodonetsk and Lysisansk.”

Some military experts reckoned that the victory in the hard-fought battle brought little strategic gain to Russian forces, and the outcome of the so-called “Donbass War” was in the balance.

“I think it’s a tactical victory for Russia, but at an enormous cost,” said Neil Melvin of the London-based RUSI think tank. He compared the war to the great battles for trivial territorial gains that characterized the First World War.

“It took 60 days to progress very slowly,” he said. “The Russians may declare some sort of victory, but the main battle is yet to come.”

Decisive Battle for Ukraine Russia has launched its main offensive not in the rising east, but in the south, where it has launched a counteroffensive to recapture Ukrainian territory, Melvin said.

“This is where we see the Ukrainians advancing around Kherson. That’s where the counterattacks start, and I think we’ll see the momentum swing to Ukraine as they try to launch a large-scale counteroffensive to push the Russians back,” he said.

Early on Tuesday, Russian rockets hit the southern city of Mykolaiv, on the main highway between Kherson and Odessa, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said.

‘Superhuman Attempt’

Zelensky said on Monday that despite Ukraine’s withdrawal from Lysizansk, its troops were still fighting.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine are retaliating, pushing back and destroying the offensive capabilities of the aggressors day after day,” Zelensky said in a video message overnight.

“We have to break them. It’s a difficult task. It takes time and inhumane efforts. But we have no alternative.”

The battle for Luhansk has come close to Moscow achieving one of its stated objectives since its failed attempt to capture Kiev in March. It was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the southern port of Mariupol in late May.

Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to militarize its southern neighbor and protect Russian-speakers from what he calls “fascist” nationalists. Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless pretext for an apparent aggression to seize territory.

Serhii Keitai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, acknowledged that his entire province was now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters: “We have to win the war, not the battle for Lysizansk … It hurts a lot, but it’s not lost. The war.”

Keidai said that Ukrainian forces that had retreated from Lysizansk were now holding the line between Pakmut and Sloviansk, preparing to block further Russian advances.

Reuters could not verify Battlefield accounts.

Ukraine hopes, in part, to get additional weapons from the West, including rockets that can neutralize Russia’s huge firepower advantage, to strike deep behind the front lines.

“It’s just a matter of how quickly the supply comes in,” Arestovich said.

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Report by Reuters bureux; Written by Michael Perry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsal

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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