Weeks of heavy fighting finally led to a full Russian occupation of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, the local mayor said on Saturday. Russian forces took control and forced the Ukrainian defenders to withdraw from the city which is almost completely destroyed.
“The Russians have completely occupied Severodonetsk, our army has withdrawn to more prepared positions,” Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said in a television interview on Saturday.
Ukrainian forces have moved south to the city of Lysychansk, which is a few miles away and south of the Siverskyi Donets River. Russian forces are expected to continue fighting in Lysychansk to gain more ground in the Luhansk region. Russian forces and pro-Russian rebels have already begun to march towards Lysychansk, according to the BBC.
This comes as Ukraine was reportedly bombed by bombers in Belarus in the western part of Ukraine.
Severodonetsk had a population of 100,000 before the war began in February, but many have fled the city since Russia began attacking the city. There were hundreds of neighbors who have taken refuge in the Azot chemical plant. Stryuk said many have started to evacuate the plant and will likely need medical attention and psychological support.
“These people have spent almost three months of their lives in basements, shelters. That’s tough emotionally and physically,” Stryuk said.
Both Russia and Ukraine have acknowledged that Russia has also occupied the Severodonetsk suburb of Syrotyne and the nearby smaller towns of Voronove and Borivske.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during his speech on Saturday night that Ukraine aims to recapture all cities captured and occupied by Russia, according to a report by Al Jazeera.
Zelensky said that Russia is trying to break the spirit of his country, as evidenced by the bombardment of Ukraine with 45 rockets over the last day.
Russia’s occupation means that Putin has now occupied almost all of the Luhansk region, plus almost all of nearby Donetsk. Taking Lysychansk would be another important step in occupying the entire region, but it’s literally more of an uphill battle since Lysychansk is on higher ground than Severodonetsk.
On Saturday, bombers flying from Belarus fired missiles at northern and western Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin also met in St. Petersburg on Saturday with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, with Putin promising to send nuclear-capable missiles to his ally, Russian media outlet RBC reported.
“In the coming months we will give Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile complexes, which can fire ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear type,” Putin said in the interview.
Before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia built up troops along Ukraine’s borders to the north and east while continuing military exercises with Belarus near Ukraine’s western border.