After the loss of Luhansk, Ukrainian forces gather to defend Donetsk

  • Lysichansk does not exist anymore
  • Putin achieves the biggest victory in a war of nearly five months
  • Donetsk next battle
  • Ukraine hopes for a southern counterattack

Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian forces set their sights on their next targets in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region after President Vladimir Putin declared victory in neighboring Luhansk province as the five-month war entered a new phase.

The capture of Lyschansk on Sunday completed the Russian invasion of Luhansk, one of two regions in Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region that has become the site of Europe’s largest battle in generations.

Both sides suffered heavy losses in the fighting for Luhansk, particularly during the siege of the twin cities of Lyschansk and Severodonetsk. Both cities have been devastated by relentless Russian bombardment.

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“The city no longer exists,” said Nina, a young mother who fled Lysichansk to take shelter in the central city of Dnipro.

“It has been practically wiped off the face of the earth. There is no humanitarian distribution center, it has been bombed. The building that housed the center no longer exists. Just like many of our homes.”

On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces took new defensive lines in Donetsk, where they still control major cities, while Putin asked his forces to “completely rest and restore their military readiness”, while units in other regions continue to fight.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has demanded that Ukraine hand over both Luhansk and Donetsk to pro-Moscow separatists, who have declared independent states.

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“This is Russia’s last victory on Ukrainian soil,” Oleksiy Aristovich, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a video posted online.

“These were medium-sized cities. It took from April 4 to July 4 – that’s 90 days. Lots of losses…”

Besides the battle of Donetsk, Aristovich said, Ukraine had hoped to launch counterattacks in the south of the country.

“The capture of cities in the east means that 60 percent of Russian forces are now concentrated in the east and it is difficult to redirect them to the south,” he said.

No more troops could be brought in from Russia. They paid a heavy price to Severodonetsk and Lychansk.

Some military experts considered that the hard-won victory brought the Russian forces few strategic gains, and the outcome of the so-called “Battle of Donbass” remained in the balance.

“I think it’s a tactical victory for Russia but at an enormous cost,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London. Compare the battle to the massive battles for the meager territorial gains that marked World War I.

“This has taken 60 days to make very slow progress,” he said. “I think the Russians may declare some kind of victory, but the main warlike battle is yet to come.”

Melvin said the decisive battle for control of Ukraine is likely not to take place in the east, where Russia is launching its main offensive, but in the south, where Ukraine has launched a counterattack to reclaim territory.

“This is where we see the Ukrainians making progress around Kherson. There are counterattacks starting there and I think we are likely to see the momentum swing into Ukraine where it then tries to launch a large-scale counterattack to push the Russians back.”

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“super voltage”

Zelensky said on Monday that despite Ukraine’s withdrawal on Sunday from Lyschansk, its forces were continuing to fight.

“Ukrainian armed forces are responding, pushing and destroying the offensive capability of the occupiers day by day,” Zelensky said in a nightly video message.

“We need to break it. It’s a difficult task. It takes extraordinary time and effort. But we have no alternative.”

The Battle of Luhansk is the closest that Moscow has achieved one of its stated goals since its forces were defeated in an attempt to seize Kyiv in March. This marked Russia’s biggest victory since its capture of the southern port of Mariupol in late May.

Putin began his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to disarm its southern neighbor and protect Russian spokesmen from what he calls “fascist” nationalists. Ukraine and the West say that this is a baseless excuse for blatant aggression to seize territory.

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, admitted that his entire province was now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters: “We need to win the war, not the battle of Lyschansk … a war.”

Gaidai said the Ukrainian forces that withdrew from Lyschansk are now holding the line between Bakhmut and Slovyansk, preparing to repel any further Russian advance.

Reuters was unable to verify the accounts of the battlefield.

Ukraine’s hopes for a sustainable counterattack depend in part on receiving additional weapons from the West, including missiles that could neutralize Russia’s massive firepower advantage by striking deep behind the front line.

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“It’s a question of how quickly the supplies arrive,” Aristovich said.

“In the West, there are not enough weapons to supply. This is after all the biggest conflict since 1945… So more weapons have to be produced, and that production is going on now. At this pace, autumn there will be a very large selection of weapons.”

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Reporting from Reuters Borex. writing by Michael Berry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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