Russian artillery hits an industrial area where 500 civilians are sheltering in the eastern Ukrainian town of Sievierodonetsk, the regional governor said, and a bridge out of the town was destroyed, amid fears grow for those who have not yet managed to leave. .
“The Russians continue to storm the city, having a significant artillery advantage, they have pushed back the Ukrainian soldiers somewhat,” said Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, in an early morning report on his Telegram channel. “The Russians are destroying neighborhood after neighborhood,” Haidai said, adding that the Russian military had “partially succeeded overnight” and controlled 70 percent of the city.
The destruction by Russian forces of a bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River leaves civilians stranded with only one bridge left to escape west to the nearby town of Lysychansk, which is also shelled but remains in Ukrainian hands.
“If after new bombardments the bridge collapses, the city will be truly cut off. There will be no way to leave Sievierodonetsk in a vehicle,” Haidai said.
There are fears that a scenario similar to that seen in the southern port city of Mariupol, where hundreds of people have been trapped for weeks at the Azovstal steelworks, could play out again at the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, where Haidai said 500 civilians had taken refuge, 40 of them children.
Haidai said the Ukrainian side was negotiating the evacuation of civilians from Azot with Moscow but had not yet reached an agreement. “We are trying to come to an agreement, with the help of [Ukrainian deputy prime minister] Irina Vereshchuk, to organize a hallway, so far it has not been successful, ”the official said. “The Azot shelters are not as solid as in the Mariupol Azovstal, so we have to get people out with security guarantees.”
Sievierodonetsk has become the focal point of Moscow’s efforts to advance into eastern Ukraine, where Russia wants to seize the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, known collectively as Donbass, after its failure to quickly seize the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, at the start of the war.
Ukrainian troops were fighting street by street to retain the city, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces suffering heavy losses, Roman Vlasenko, head of the Sievierodonetsk district administration, told local television. “Our boys are holding on but the conditions are tough,” he said. Vlasenko said the city had been without communications and normal services for a month.
Addressing his nation in his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said forces in Sievierodonetsk were fighting for “every yard”.
“The occupiers’ key tactical objective has not changed. They are pressing in Sievierodonetsk, heavy fighting is going on there – literally for every meter,” the president said, adding that the Russian army was trying to dump “poorly trained” reserves into the Donbass.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence report that river crossing operations were likely to be among the most important determining factors during the course of the war.
The key 90 km long central sector of the Russian front line in the Donbass lies west of the Siverskyi Donets River and to succeed in the current operational phase of its offensive, Russia had to “either carry out ambitious circumvention actions, i.e. carrying out assault river crossings,” the Ministry of Defense said,
Last month, Russia suffered heavy casualties in multiple attempts to cross the river. In an attempt, Russia lost more than 80 vehicles to Ukrainian fire, according to open source estimates.
Also on Monday, Amnesty International accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, saying attacks – many using banned cluster bombs – on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, had killed hundreds of civilians.
“The repeated shelling of residential neighborhoods in Kharkiv are indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured hundreds of civilians, and as such constitute war crimes,” the prominent rights group said in a report titled “ Anyone can die at any time.”
Reuters contributed to this report