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Ukraine troops set to withdraw from bitterly contested city of Severodonetsk

Ukraine troops set to withdraw from bitterly contested city of Severodonetsk

After weeks of ferocious fighting, Ukrainian forces will retreat from a besieged city in the country’s east to avoid encirclement, a regional governor said Friday.

The city of Severodonetsk, the administrative centre of the Luhansk region, has faced relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the city’s edge, where they holed up in its sprawling underground structures.

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Severodonetsk and the neighbouring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces.

Some Ukrainian forces remained holed up with about 500 civilians at the Azot chemical plant, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

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Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said that the Ukrainian troops have been given the order to leave Severodonetsk to prevent that.

“We will have to pull back our guys,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay at the destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will grow every day.”

Haidai said the Ukrainian forces have “received the order to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there” but didn’t give further details.

A man rides a scooter past a damaged car in Lysychansk on June 21. Ukraine says Russian shelling has caused significant destruction in the eastern industrial city, which lies just across a river from Severodonetsk. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

He said the Russians were also advancing toward Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units conducted forays on the city edges but were driven out by its defenders.

The governor added that a bridge on a highway leading to Lysychansk was badly damaged in a…

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