KYIV, Ukraine –
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 Sievierodonetsk, 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 Sievierodonetsk and the neighbouring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said that the Ukrainian troops have been given the order to leave Sievierodonetsk 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.
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 Russian airstrike and became unusable for trucks. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.
The Russian Defence Ministry declared Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries” totaling about 2,000 soldiers have been “fully blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.