The Ukrainian military has ordered its forces to withdraw from the besieged city of Severodonetsk, as the threat of encirclement there now outweighs any reasons for them to stay, the regional governor said.
Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk region’s military administration, said that it “does not make sense” to try to hold the city any longer as it has been smashed after four months of intense bombardment and weeks of street fighting.
“The number of people killed will increase every day,” he said. “It was decided that our defenders would retreat to new positions, fortified areas, and from there conduct hostilities and inflict damage on the enemy.”
The decision to withdraw from Severodonetsk had to be a difficult one to swallow for the Ukrainians. Intent on resisting the Russians for every square foot of territory, they’ve exacted a heavy toll on the Russian forces, but have also suffered terrible casualties.
But at this point, the returns for remaining in the city were deemed not worth enough in the big picture. The city, after months of artillery, missile, and airstrikes, as well as the pitched fighting, is largely destroyed. And with hundreds of civilians holed up in the Azot chemical plant, it was time to get them out.
Severodonetsk A Large Political/Strategic Target:
Severodonetsk has been a key target for Moscow since the earliest days of the invasion. And those factors are both political and strategic.
Severodonetsk is located in the heart of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and the fighting there has been ongoing since 2014 when the Russians annexed the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea and started a Russian proxy separatist movement where about 14,000 people have been killed.
The fighting was conducted by men in Russian uniforms, using vehicles with Russian identification numbers, but the myth at that time was these troops were local “self-defense units”. Russian President Putin thumbed his nose at the world by referring to these obvious Russian troops as “little green men.”
These proxy separatist groups have self-proclaimed themselves “People’s Republics” and were promptly recognized by Moscow just hours before the February 2022 Russian invasion. Nowhere else in the world has recognized these breakaway republics. The people there are largely Russian-speaking and one of the new myths of the justification of the invasion dubbed a “special military operation” by Moscow is the protection of Russian-speaking people from Ukrainian genocide.
By securing the industrial area of the Donbas, the Russians will be able to access much of the area’s coal deposits for their own use once the region is annexed from Ukraine. And this region will give Moscow a land bridge from the Donbas to the annexed region of Crimea. Mariupol was firmly inside of that land bridge as well.
What’s Next In the Donbas?
The big question for the Ukrainians is, “what is their plan moving forward?” Haidai said that the Russians are continuing to “burn everything out” in bludgeoning their way into the cities of Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk.
“The Russians are advancing without trying to spare the ammunition or troops, and they aren’t running out of either,” Haidai said. “They have an edge in heavy artillery and the number of troops.”
Severodonetsk has been largely destroyed, Kyiv says that 90 percent of the city has been shelled with 80 percent of the buildings being either “critically damaged” or destroyed. And with incremental gains made south of the city, Ukrainian forces were in danger of being encircled.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed earlier on Friday that four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of “foreign mercenaries”, about 2,000 troops in total, were “fully blocked” near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.
If the Ukrainians decide to likewise withdraw from Lysychansk, the land west of the city is largely wide open country with few defensible positions available. They may decide to withdraw further west to the Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Kostiantynivka areas, inside the Donbas’ industrial heartland.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 10 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.