Russian forces could be just weeks away from seizing control of the key Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine — as Ukrainian officials continued to appeal for more heavy weapons and ammunition from the West.
An unnamed senior US defense official told The Washington Post that the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which have seen some of the fiercest battles in recent weeks, could fall to Russia in the coming days.
Russia has been making steady gains in the strategically important Donbas region — comprised of Luhanks and Donetsk — by pounding the area with heavy artillery day after day and inflicting heavy casualties on the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian soldiers.
The area is home to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhanks People’s Republic, which are controlled by Moscow-backed rebels who have been at war with Ukrainian forces since 2014.
It is widely believed that the fate of Donbas could dictate the course of the entire war, now in its fourth month.
After early failures to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv without proper planning, Russian forces regrouped and went on to seize the entire Sea of Azov coast, including the strategic port of Mariupol, the entire Kherson region —- a key gateway to Crimea —- and a large chunk of the Zaporizhzhia region that could aid a further push deeper into Ukraine.
The city of Severodonetsk in the east has emerged as the linchpin to Russia’s plan to bring Donbas to heel, and Serhiy Haidal, governor of the Luhansk Obslat, wrote on Telegram Sunday that the situation was “extremely difficult.”
By some estimates, Russians now control two thirds of the city and are trying to isolate completely it by destroying its bridges. Haidal predicted that the invaders will throw all of their reserves to capture Severodonetsk.
“The Russians are doing their best to ‘cut off’ Severodonetsk,” Haidal added. “The next two or three days will be significant.”
Ukraine is losing between 100 and 200 soldiers a day, Mykhailo Podolyak, senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told the BBC, as Russia has “thrown pretty much everything non-nuclear at the front.”
In his nightly address Sunday, Zelensky said that Ukraine’s forces are fighting “literally for ever meter” in Severodonetsk.
Russia has a clear edge in artillery in the battle for Donbas, thanks to a bigger number of heavy howitzers and rocket launchers and abundant ammunition. The Ukrainians have had to be economical in using their artillery, with the Russians constantly targeting their supply lines.
In his recent remarks, Zelensky accused Western countries of ignoring Ukraine’s pleas to supply modern missile defense systems ahead of the Feb. 24 invasion.
“Did we get them? No. Do we need them? Yes,” he said. Zelensky further argued that thousands of lives could have been saved “if Ukraine had been listened to.”
The rare public rebuke came after President Joe Biden told an audience at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Los Angeles Friday that Zelensky “didn’t want to hear” America’s warnings that Vladimir Putin was going to invade Ukraine.
Zelensky’s aides forcefully denied that the Ukrainian leader had ignored Biden’s warnings, with Podolyak slamming the claim as “absurd.”
“It is absurd to blame a country that has been resisting a superior aggressor for more than 100 days when key countries were unable to prevent the Russian Federation [from invading],” he said.
With Post Wires