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Ukraine’s Grip on Key Eastern City Appears to Slip Further

June 13, 2022 Updated Mon., June 13, 2022 at 12:11 p.m.

Members of a Ukrainian artillery unit prepare to bring their 122 mm self-propelled gun into action after their drones spoted a group of Russian howitzers several kilometers away in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Friday, June 10, 2022. The Ukrainian government has poured troops and resources into its effort to hold on to Sievierodonetsk, a strategically important, industrial city and the last major urban center in the region of Luhansk that has not yet fallen.   (TYLER HICKS/The New York Times)
Members of a Ukrainian artillery unit prepare to bring their 122 mm self-propelled gun into action after their drones spoted a group of Russian howitzers several kilometers away in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Friday, June 10, 2022. The Ukrainian government has poured troops and resources into its effort to hold on to Sievierodonetsk, a strategically important, industrial city and the last major urban center in the region of Luhansk that has not yet fallen.  (TYLER HICKS/The New York Times)
By Valerie Hopkins and Matthew Mpoke Bigg The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces have pushed Ukrainian troops from the center of Sievierodonetsk, the Ukrainian military said Monday, as Ukraine’s grip on the strategic eastern city appeared to weaken further.

The Ukrainian military said fighting was ongoing in the riverside city, where for weeks Ukrainian and Russian forces have engaged in artillery duels and bloody street battles over destroyed neighborhoods. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called the battle decisive for the fate of his country’s eastern Donbas region. Allies have warned that Sievierodonetsk could fall to Russia within weeks or days.

The situation in the city was “extremely difficult” Sunday because the Russian army destroyed a second bridge into the city, regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said. That leaves only one other span over the Seversky Donets River, and it too has been under heavy bombardment.

“Most likely, today or tomorrow, they will throw all reserves to capture the city,” Haidai said, referring to Russian forces.

In an update Monday, Haidai said Russian forces were heavily shelling an industrial zone that includes a chemical plant where about 500 civilians, including 40 children, were sheltering. Efforts were underway to evacuate the civilians, he added.

In an evening speech Sunday, Zelenskyy said Sievierodonetsk was the site of “very fierce fighting — literally for every meter.”

Russia has continued to make slow but steady advances in the Donbas, which comprises the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Moscow’s troops have used their superior artillery to pummel civilian territory before moving forces in, as they did when they advanced last month into Sievierodonetsk. It and neighboring Lysychansk are the only cities in the Luhansk region yet to fall to the Russian military. The fighting along this eastern front has been some of the fiercest in the war.

Sievierodonetsk holds symbolic meaning for Ukraine. After the city of Luhansk and much of the province of the same name were captured by Moscow-backed rebels in 2014, Sievierodonetsk became the de facto provincial capital.

Still, Ukrainian officials have wrestled with whether to withdraw from what Zelenskyy has called a “dead” city, where most of the prewar population of 100,000 people has fled and infrastructure has been destroyed. For now, however, Ukrainian forces say they will continue to fight, even at the risk of being encircled.

The battle has highlighted Ukraine’s urgent need for more firepower, with Soviet-era ammunition running out, and led to urgent calls from Ukrainian leaders for more, and faster, deliveries of military supplies from Western allies.

“Over time, we receive far less than we lose,” said Taras Chmut, director of the Come Back Alive foundation, a volunteer nongovernmental organization that supports the Ukrainian military. “We are depleting faster than they do.”

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