“The Russians control 70 percent of Severodonetsk,” Lugansk region governor Sergiy Gaiday announced on Telegram, adding that Ukrainian forces were withdrawing to prepared positions.
“If in two or three days, the Russians take control of Severodonetsk, they will install artillery and mortars and will bombard more intensely Lysychansk,” the city across the river, which Gaiday said remained under Kyiv’s control.
One of the industrial hubs on Russia’s path to taking the eastern Lugansk region, Severodonetsk has become a target of massive Russian firepower since the failed attempt to capture Kyiv.
But in a boost for the outgunned Ukrainian military, President Joe Biden confirmed that more US weaponry was on the way to allow them to “more precisely strike key targets” in Ukraine.
The new weapon is the Himars multiple launch rocket system, or MLRS: a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles. They are the centrepiece of a $700 million package being unveiled on Wednesday that also includes air-surveillance radar, more Javelin short-range anti-tank rockets, artillery ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and spare parts, a US official said.
With a range of about 50 miles (80 kilometres), they will allow Ukrainian forces to strike further behind Russian lines.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of “adding fuel to the fire”, saying “such supplies” did not encourage Kyiv to resume peace talks. In an article in the New York Times, Biden insisted: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.” He wrote: “We do not seek a war between Nato and Russia.
“As much as I disagree with Mr (President Vladimir) Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow.” While some analysts have suggested the Himars could be a “game-changer”, others caution they should not be expected to suddenly turn the tables, not least because Ukrainian troops need time to learn how to use them effectively. What they may do is improve morale.
“If you know you have a heavy weapon behind you, everyone’s spirits rise,” one Ukrainian fighter on the frontline said before the announcement. On the eastern frontline in Donbas, Ukrainian towns are being subjected to near-constant shelling from Russian forces.
Moscow said on Wednesday it had no information on the death of a French journalist killed this week while covering the evacuation of civilians in the east of the country.
West of Severodonetsk, in the city of Sloviansk, journalists saw buildings destroyed by a rocket attack in which three people died and six others were hurt. And on Wednesday, at least one person died and two others were injured in Soledar, between Sloviansk and Severodonetsk.
The European Union has also sent weapons and cash for Ukraine, while levelling unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow.