Ukrainian forces have vowed to regroup and fight from ‘higher ground’ after the military acknowledged the fall to Russian forces of the key eastern town of Syevyerodonetsk following a long and brutal battle.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, told Reuters late on June 25 that the country’s forces would continue their defense of the east from besieged Lysychansk after the loss of Syevyerodonetsk, located just across Siverskiy Donets river.
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“The activities taking place in the Syevyerodonetsk region are a tactical regrouping of our troops. This is a withdrawal to advantageous positions to gain a tactical advantage,” Budanov said.
“Russia is using the tactic…it used in Mariupol: to wipe the city off the face of the Earth. Given the conditions, it is no longer possible to maintain the defense in the ruins and open fields. Ukrainian forces are therefore moving to higher ground to continue defense operations,” he said.
In a late-night address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed his forces would recapture all cities that had been lost to Russia, including Syevyerodonetsk.
The capture of Syevyerodonetsk, although today mostly a city of rubble, represents the biggest gain for Russian troops since taking the southern port of Mariupol, a city also left largely in ruins after a bloody battle. and extended.
The mayor of Syevyerodonetsk said earlier in the day that the city was fully under Russian control and that all exit routes into Ukrainian-held territory were blocked, leaving escape possible only through Russian-occupied areas.
“The city is now under total Russian occupation,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told state television.
“They are trying to establish their own order. As far as I know, they have appointed some kind of commander,” he said, adding that it was “impossible” to leave the city to go to Ukrainian territory. , pinning down some 10,000 civilians.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that “as a result of successful offensive operations” Russian forces had established full control over Syevyerodonetsk and nearby towns and villages.
Russia continued to target areas across Ukraine with artillery and missile strikes, striking military installations in the west and north and continuing to shell key battlefield towns in the eastern region of the country. Donbass.
Russia’s revised military focus on eastern Ukraine has brought Moscow closer to its goal of capturing the Donbass, made up of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions.
Parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions have been under the control of pro-Russian separatists since 2014, when Russia also invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
The attention there was prompted by Moscow’s failure to take the capital, Kyiv, in the first phase of the war after its invasion in February.
Continued shelling of targets far from the front lines has led to accusations that Russia is trying to strike fear among civilians and drag neighboring Belarus into the conflict.
“48 cruise missiles. Night. Across Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak wrote on Twitter on June 25. “Russia is always trying to intimidate Ukraine, to panic and scare people.”
In the west, officials in Lviv said Russian forces launched six missiles from the Black Sea and four hit a military installation near the Polish border.
Ukraine’s Northern Military Command wrote on Facebook on June 25 that 20 rockets that hit the town of Desna in Chernihiv were fired from the air and from Belarusian territory, prompting Ukrainian intelligence to accuse Russia of trying to drag Minsk into the war.
“Today’s strike is directly linked to the Kremlin’s efforts to drag Belarus into the war in Ukraine as a co-belligerent,” the intelligence service said on Telegram.
Belarus has lent its support to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, but officially remains a non-belligerent country.
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During a meeting in Saint Petersburg with Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin would supply the Belarusian ally with Iskander-M missile systems, a mobile guided missile system with a range up to 500 kilometers.
Putin also said Moscow would help Minsk modernize its air force given what Lukashenka called the “aggressive”, “confrontational” and “repulsive” policies of neighboring Lithuania and Poland.
Hirske, a key district about 35 kilometers south of Lysychansk, was “fully occupied” by Russian forces on June 24, while officials reported the same day that Russian troops had taken control of Mykolaivka, located near of a highway to Lysychansk.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on June 25 that Ukrainian troops had repelled attacks near Bakhmut, which is in the Donetsk region along a major supply route to Lysychansk.
Kyiv has received billions of dollars in aid from its Western partners since the unprovoked invasion of Moscow. On June 23, the United States announced an additional $450 million in military aid for Kyiv, including four more HIMARS long-range multiple rocket launchers, tens of thousands of artillery rounds and patrol boats.
Ukrainian leaders expressed gratitude for the contributions — and on June 25 the military said US HIMARS were already being used effectively — but they say much more is needed.
The fierce fighting has stretched the personnel and equipment resources of both sides to the limit, with Kyiv repeatedly pleading with the West for more heavy weapons and Russia facing growing difficulties in bringing trained personnel to the front line.
Ukraine’s spy chief Budanov said, “The country’s strategy is very simple. Stabilize the situation. Receive the required amount of equipment and prepare the required amount of forces and means to launch the counter-offensive to return all of our territory.”
Budanov said Russia has committed 330,000 troops and noncombatant personnel to its operations in Ukraine, a third of its total armed forces.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia, said he fears Kyiv will come under pressure to agree to a “bad peace” deal with Moscow, a move that would lead to a long-term global “catastrophe”. ”
“Too many countries are saying this is an unnecessary European war…and so the pressure will increase to encourage – coerce, perhaps – the Ukrainians into a bad peace,” Johnson said. to journalists during a visit to the Rwandan capital. , Kigali, to attend a Commonwealth summit.
It would be “a disaster” and would be “a trigger for further escalation by Putin whenever he wanted to,” Johnson said.