That makes the city of Sloviansk, more than 300 miles east of the capital kyiv, a potentially crucial battleground in the weeks to come.
“Efforts by Russian forces advancing from Izyum to capture Sloviansk will likely prove the next crucial battle in the war in Ukraine,” the Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its update. Monday’s update on the conflict in Ukraine. His report uses alternative transliterations of Ukrainian place names.
The ISW expects Russian troops to begin offensive operations towards the city from nearby Izium in the coming days, a forecast that matches warnings on the ground.
“They’re going south towards Kamyanka because that’s the route to the city of Sloviansk,” Max Strelnyk, a deputy in the Izium city council office, told CNN late last week about the plans. Russian troops. “We have radio intercepts of their talks; their task is to capture the Donetsk region from the north.”
On Wednesday, Vadym Denysenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said: “If we talk about the main directions where the fighting will continue, it is Sloviansk [Donetsk region] and Barvinkove [Kharkiv region] direction.”
Residents of Sloviansk, a city of just over 100,000 before the invasion, are now being told to evacuate, as Ukrainian forces prepare to defend it against another Russian attack.
Control of the city has significant strategic importance in the larger conflict. If Russian forces invaded Sloviansk, they could cut off Ukrainian forces in the wider region. If held back by the Ukrainian resistance, however, Russia’s ambitions to control both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions will suffer a severe blow.
The strategic importance of Sloviansk
Its importance now lies mainly in the fact that it is surrounded on three sides by cities under Russian control – Izium to the north, Luhansk to the east and Donetsk to the south – but lies further west in the Donbass region. than the latter two locations, blocking Russia’s paths further into Ukrainian territory.
“Russian forces likely intend to cut off Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine and will have to take Sloviansk as the minimum step to do so,” the ISW said.
A successful Russian assault on the city would give Moscow the option of linking troops with those fighting in Rubizhne, northeast of Sloviansk, or moving them south to Horlivka and Donetsk in an attempt to encircle the Ukrainian fighters there, the group added. .
But Russia appears to have encountered multiple military failures in the first six weeks of the invasion, and its failure to capture towns further west, such as the capital kyiv, likely prompted a renewed focus on Donbass. .
In this context, a new Russian defeat against the Ukrainian resistance could even jeopardize their new strategy in the east.
“If Russian forces are unable to take Sloviansk, Russian frontal assaults in Donbass are unlikely to independently breach Ukrainian defenses and the Russian campaign to capture the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts is likely to fail,” he said. the ISW.
A humanitarian disaster is looming
The reinforced Russian troops currently heading from Izium to Sloviansk are made up of elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army that were previously in the Kharkiv-Sumy region to the north, the ISW reported on Tuesday.
They do not yet include units that have been withdrawn from the Kyiv region, the institute added. And, he added, the operation towards Sloviansk has “continued on a small scale and made limited progress” so far this week.
But Russia may step up its assault on the city when more units become available. Citizens of Sloviansk received an evacuation order on Monday, amid fears of a large-scale attack and subsequent humanitarian disaster in the city.
Such a fate has already befallen Izium, which has been under sustained Russian attack for weeks. On Monday, a senior US defense official told reporters that Russian forces are “still carrying out more than 200 sorties a day” and “most of their airstrikes are focused on the Izium region.”
“Every day it gets worse,” Strelnyk told CNN of the humanitarian situation in Izium on Friday.
“There has been no pause in the shelling – it started weeks ago – by the Russians. Although Russia says it will reduce military operations in Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, Izium and Greater Kharkiv region won’t be so lucky,” Strelnyk said. noted.
“In town, the dead are buried in our city’s central park,” he told CNN. Geotagged video footage verified by CNN showed dead bodies in the city’s central park.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said major fighting was underway in eastern Ukraine, with the regional military governor of the eastern Luhansk region urging civilians to evacuate some towns. Sloviansk lies to the north of the bordering region of Donetsk.
But officials in both regions spoke of their difficulties getting people out or helping them.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of attacking planned humanitarian corridors and bombing townspeople as they flee.
Ivan Fedorov, mayor of the Russian-occupied southern city of Melitopol, said on Tuesday that Russian troops had blocked the delivery of humanitarian supplies and hampered the evacuation of civilians.
“The situation in the humanitarian corridors has not improved,” Fedorov said in televised remarks. “In the past two weeks, we have only managed to deliver two humanitarian shipments to Melitopol.”
CNN’s Alex Stambaugh, Nathan Hodge, Yulia Kesaieva and Tim Lister contributed reporting.