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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fate of civilians—and future—of eastern Ukraine at stake as intense battle continues in Severodonetsk

A Ukrainian serviceman patrols a village Thursday near the frontline in the Donetsk oblast region of eastern Ukraine.   (Spokesman-Review wire archives)
By Annabelle Timsit, Rachel Pannett, Adela Suliman and Bryan Pietsch The Washington Post

Some 10,000 civilians remain stuck in the strategic eastern city of Severodonetsk – and evacuations are “impossible” for most because of the intensity of Russian attacks, Oleksandr Stryuk, the city’s mayor, said Thursday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the fight for the city as “a very fierce battle … probably one of the most difficult throughout this war,” adding that the battle for control of the Donbas region was “being decided” there.

The governor of the Luhansk region, which is part of Donbas, said that Russia was not in control of the city and that “nobody is surrendering” there, though he conceded that a tactical pullback may be necessary.

Severodonetsk’s mayor said Thursday that the humanitarian situation in the city is worsening, with fierce fighting and no electricity or water services and little food.

“For now, evacuation is impossible,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said in a television interview, describing how the main bridge out of the city to nearby Lysychansk was being shelled and infrastructure destroyed.

“The humanitarian situation in the city is almost critical, insofar as there has been no electricity, water or gas for a month and a half,” he said, adding that food supplies were also at a “minimum.”

Stryuk said that “around 10,000 residents remain in the city; they are in hiding.”

Ukrainian forces still control around a third of the city, he added, which Russia has been bombarding for weeks as a focal point of its eastern offensive. “The line of defense has been built and is holding on. The night was rather difficult, under strong artillery fire. … Unfortunately, the situation is rather difficult, but under control,” Stryuk added.

Meanwhile, in the southern region, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed Thursday that it launched a successful counterattack against Russian forces around Kherson and reclaimed some of the territory it had lost in the southern region.

“As a result of a successful counterattack by Ukraine’s defenders on the Kherson front, the occupiers lost part of the temporarily occupied territories and suffered losses in manpower and equipment,” the ministry said in a Telegram post.

The ministry did not provide more specifics on which areas it was referring to, and The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Wednesday in its latest intelligence assessment that “Russian forces are intensifying their operations in northwestern Kherson Oblast in response to recent Ukrainian counterattacks.”

The British Defense Ministry said Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had “recently achieved some success by counterattacking in the southwestern Kherson region, including regaining a foothold on the eastern bank of the Ingulets River.”

In the annexed Crimean Peninsula, Moscow said it has restored rail and road links through using Ukrainian cities it controls; the claim could not be independently verified. It has also restored water flow to the peninsula, according to satellite images.

In his address Wednesday after winning a Time magazine poll, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also urged people and politicians to use their influence to combat Russia and “defeat tyranny.”

“It is time to be 100 percent influential. We can defeat tyranny. Indeed, every one of us – everyone – is the leader of our time. We can reliably defend freedom,” he said in a speech via video link in response to the Time 100 Reader Poll results.

“We can stop blackmail from a person who has no place on our list at all. If we are up to it, then we must do it,” he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.