LYSECHANSK, Ukraine – All bridges connecting the Ukrainian twin cities of Lyschansk and Severodonetsk have been destroyed, and street-to-street fighting has raged, leaving thousands of civilians largely trapped inside one of the bloodiest battles of the war to date.
Russia has targeted the region since beginning its full-scale invasion in February, but as the scope of its offensive narrowed into the resource-rich eastern Donbass, Russian leaders steadily redirected more forces into the small pocket of land in and around Severodonetsk.
An estimated 10,000 people remain in the city of Severodonetsk, and several hundred are believed to be hiding in bunkers under a chemical plant that is almost constantly bombarded. The Ukrainian government said this week that any large-scale evacuation of the city is now impossible. Russia has promised to establish a humanitarian corridor, but the previous claims did not materialize and the Russian forces They set their fire At sites where civilians were gathering to flee.
Heavy fighting continued on Thursday in Lyschansk and Severodonetsk. Local authorities said a Russian airstrike hit central Lyschansk Thursday morning, killing at least one person.
For most of the day, Russian and Ukrainian artillery fired from the opposing banks of the Siversky Donets, which divides the two cities. A group of Ukrainian soldiers, a break from the fighting in the basement of a Soviet-style apartment, asked reporters from the New York Times when the Western rocket artillery systems would arrive, and said they needed several.
On the front line as Russian artillery bombards the city of Lysichansk, one of the soldiers said, “The clock feels like a whole day.”
In Sievierodonetsk, the people of the now devastated city are largely alone. Those who achieved it recently described horrific scenes.
Now the bombing is so intense that “people can no longer stand it in shelters – their psychological state is on the brink,” said Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk military administration.
He said that Russia does not control the city, and fierce battles are going from house to house. At the same time, Russian forces continue to destroy villages around the city, said Mr. Heidi.
“The destruction of the housing sector is catastrophic,” he said. People in the city reported running out of food and clean water – and described scenes similar to those in Mariupol and many other towns and cities along the Eastern Front over the past four months.
It is believed that another 60,000 civilians are still living in Ukrainian-controlled Lysichansk. But Russia’s constant bombardment of the area while Russia tries to encircle Ukrainian forces there has made any large-scale evacuation a very difficult proposition.
Most of the estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Russian artillery rounds each day are concentrated in this last piece of Ukrainian-controlled Luhansk Province.
The type of convoy needed for large-scale evacuation is likely to require coordination between Russia and Ukraine under the supervision of international mediators. There has been no public suggestion that such a plan is under discussion. In Lysychansk, volunteers, in a variety of vehicles, evacuate dozens of civilians every day.
The commander of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zaluzhny, said in a statement that Russia has focused its efforts on this battle. In addition to the constant artillery bombardment, he said, Moscow is directing air strikes and using multiple missile launch systems to eliminate everything in its path. Russian forces are trying to advance along nine separate fronts from the north, east and south.
Despite the superior Russian arsenal, the Ukrainians were able to prevent Moscow’s forces from completing the encirclement of the region. General Zalogni said they would continue to fight.
He said Sievierodonetsk is a key point in the Luhansk region’s defense system. “The city cannot be considered any less,” he said.