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The governor of Luhansk has warned that it is too late for thousands of civilians to be evacuated from the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk as it faces a sustained Russian effort to take the city and parts of the province still held by the ‘Ukraine.

Surrounded on three sides by Russian forces trying to complete their encirclement of the pocket around the city, Sievierodonetsk and towns and villages to the west have come under heavy shelling in recent days.

15,000 residents of the town are still believed to be hiding in shelters in what Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described as “the largest [offensive] on European soil since the Second World War”.

Russian forces attempted to cut Ukrainian supply lines to Sievierodonestsk trying to control key routes to the west.

“At this point, I will not say: get out, evacuate. Now I will say: stay in a shelter,” Sergiy Haidai said on his Telegram channel. “Because such a density of bombardments will not allow us to calmly gather people together and pick them up.”

“The enemy concentrated its efforts on the offensive operation to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. Now, with artillery support, they are carrying out assault operations in the direction of Toshkivka and Ustynivka, near Lysychansk,” Haidai wrote.

Map of Ukraine

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported on Monday that Russian forces were attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses around Popasna in a bid to push west towards Bakhmut, a crucial junction that serves as a command center for much of the Ukrainian war effort.

“I looked up from my prayers and heard a frightening sound,” said Maria Mayashlapak, 82, a Bakhmut resident who has seen repeated airstrikes. “Every day I pray to God asking him to avoid injury. God heard me. God is watching over me.

According to the latest intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense, capturing Sievierodonetsk would put the entire Luhannsk region under Russian control, an ambition signaled by Russia last week.

In a further development, the Kyiv Independent’s defense correspondent tweeted on Tuesday evening that Ukrainian defenders appeared to have ceded two towns outside the town of Horlivka – south of Sievierodonetsk – under “extreme Russian pressure” to retreat to more defensible positions.

It seems that the Ukrainian army decided to cede the towns of Myronivsky and Svitlodarsk and retreat northwest to more reliable lines of defense due to extreme Russian pressure in the Popasna-Bakhmut-Severodonetsk region.
The status of the Vuhlehirska power plant is unclear.

— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) May 24, 2022

The Donbass, which includes all regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, is the former industrial heartland of Ukraine stretching from outside Mariupol in the south to the northern border. Predominantly Russian-speaking, almost a third of the area was seized by Russian-backed forces in 2014.

During his address on Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy highlighted the violence of the fighting around Sievierodonetsk. “The most difficult combat situation today is in the Donbass,” Zelenskiy said, citing the hardest-hit towns of Bakhmut, Popasna and Sievierodonetsk.

Too late to evacuate civilians in face of Russian attack, Luhansk official says |  Ukraine
Damaged residential buildings in Sievierodonetsk after shelling. Photograph: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters

“The Russian army is trying to show that it will not abandon the captured areas of the Kharkiv region, that it will not abandon the Kherson region, the occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhya region and Donbass.

“In some places they are advancing, where they are mobilizing reserves, where they are trying to reinforce their positions. In the coming weeks, the wars will be difficult, and we must be aware of this.

Despite intensified Russian efforts in Donbass and the huge levels of destruction, some Western officials have pointed to the difficulties faced by Kremlin forces amid emerging criticism of the conduct of the campaign by Russian military bloggers.

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“The Russians are still well behind where we think they wanted to be when they launched this revitalized effort in the east,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday, describing the fighting in the Donbass as very vibrant, with small towns and villages changing hands daily.

The lack of resources was underscored last week by an abrupt Russian withdrawal from areas near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city which has been bombarded since the start of the war. Some of these forces have apparently been redeployed to the Donbass, but that was not enough to tip the scales on the battlefield.

“They really had to reduce the troops they had around Kharkiv, just because they’re trying to hold too much line with too few troops,” said Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University. of St. Andrews. in Scotland.

Away from Sievierodonetsk, there was also evidence that Russian forces were working to strengthen their tactical position around Kharkiv, having moved troops from the city to redeploy units to the fighting further south.

The latest fighting took place as the bodies of more than 200 people were discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging in a basement under the collapsed building.

Agencies contributed to this report

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