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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — After weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces will withdraw from a beleaguered town in the east of the country to avoid encirclement, a regional governor said Friday.

The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Lugansk region, has faced incessant Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical plant on the outskirts of the city, where they dug into its sprawling underground structures.

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Lysychansk on a steep bank across the river in an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops were ordered out of Sievierodonetsk to prevent this.

“We’ll have to pull our guys out,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay on destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will increase every day.”

Haidai said Ukrainian forces had “been ordered to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there”, but did not give further details.

He said the Russians were also advancing towards Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units had made incursions on the outskirts of the town but were driven off by its defenders.

A woman covers her ears in response to a Russian airstrike in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, June 16, 2022.

The governor added that a bridge over a highway leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a Russian airstrike and became unusable for trucks. The claim could not be independently verified.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling around 2,000 soldiers were “completely blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.

After a failed attempt to capture Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, at the start of the invasion that began on February 24, Russian forces focused on the Donbass region, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

The Russian military controls about 95% of Luhansk province and about half of neighboring Donetsk province, the two regions that make up Donbass.

After repeated pleas to its Western allies for heavier weapons to counter Russia’s firepower advantage, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said an answer had come in the form of spears. – American medium-range rockets.

A U.S. defense official confirmed on Wednesday that the four promised high-mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, were in the hands of Ukrainian forces, but said it was unclear whether they had already been used.

The United States approved the supply of the precision-guided systems in late May, and once in the region, Ukrainian forces needed about three weeks of training to operate them. Rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).

The United States will send an additional $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including four more medium-range rocket systems, ammunition and other supplies, U.S. officials said Thursday.

A pro-Moscow administration official in the southern city of Kherson, captured by Russian troops early in the invasion, was killed in an explosion on Friday.

The pro-Russian Kherson regional administration said Dmitry Savlyuchenko died when his vehicle exploded in what it described as a “terrorist attack”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.



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