Russian missiles rained down over Ukraine on Saturday, hitting military facilities in the west and north, as well as a southern city as the biggest land conflict in Europe since World War II entered its fifth month.
Russian artillery and airstrikes stormed the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the eastern region of Luhansk on Friday, attacking a chemical factory where hundreds of civilians were trapped, a Ukrainian official said on Saturday.
Ukraine said on Friday that its forces had been ordered to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk as there was very little left to defend after weeks of intense fighting, marking Ukraine’s biggest turning point since the loss of the port of Mariupol in May.
News of the withdrawal came four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops across the border, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands, uprooted millions and disrupted the global economy.
“48 cruise missiles. At night. All over Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, spread panic and scare people.”
The latest Russian advances seemed to bring Moscow closer to taking full control of Luhansk, one of Putin’s goals, and pave the way for Lysychansk to become the next prime target.
Vitaly Kiselev, an official in the interior ministry of the separatist People’s Republic of Luhansk — recognized only by Russia — told Russia’s TASS news agency that it would take another week and a half to gain full control of Lysychansk.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces attacked the Sievierodonetsk industrial zone and also tried to enter Lysychansk and blockade it on Saturday.
“There was an air raid on Lysychansk. Sievierodonetsk was hit by artillery,” Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk and the villages of Synetsky and Pavlograd and others have been shelled.
He did not report any casualties at the Azot plant and Reuters was unable to immediately verify the information. Gaidai said 17 people were evacuated from Lysychansk on Friday by police officers, rescuers and volunteers.
Kharatin Starskyi, the press officer for a Ukrainian National Guard brigade, said on television on Saturday that the flow of information about the Sievierodonetsk withdrawal had been slowed down to protect troops on the ground.
“In the past (several) days, an operation to withdraw our troops has been carried out,” Starskyi said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it called a “special military operation” but abandoned an early advance towards the capital Kiev amid fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters using Western weapons.
Since then, Moscow and its allies have concentrated on the south and Donbas, an eastern region made up of Luhansk and its neighbor Donetsk, with overwhelming artillery.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday he feared Ukraine could come under pressure to negotiate a peace deal with Russia. Johnson said the fallout if Putin gets his way in Ukraine would be dangerous for international security and a long-term economic disaster.
On Saturday, Russia again fired missiles at military and civilian infrastructure in the north, from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkov, to Sievierodonetsk in the east, the general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said.
Several regional governors reported shelling on cities across Ukraine on Saturday.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Kiev and the West say Russian troops have committed war crimes against civilians.
The governor of the Lviv region of western Ukraine, Maxim Kozytskyi, said in a video posted online that six rockets were fired from the Black Sea at the Yavoriv base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target, but two were destroyed.
Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of the Zhytomyr region in the north of the country, said at least one soldier was killed in attacks on a military target.
“Nearly 30 missiles were launched at a military infrastructure facility near the town of Zhytomyr,” Bunechko said, adding that nearly 10 missiles had been intercepted and destroyed.
In the south, Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of Mykolaiv near the Black Sea, said five cruise missiles hit the city and nearby areas on Saturday. The number of victims is being clarified.
Ukraine again pushed for more weapons on Friday, with its top general, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, telling his US counterpart in a phone call that Kiev needed “fire parity” with Moscow to stabilize the situation in Luhansk.
South of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian soldiers also withdrew from the towns of Hirske and Zolote in the face of overwhelming Russian forces, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ukraine’s foreign minister downplayed the importance of the potential loss of more territory in the Donbas.
“Putin wanted to occupy the Donbas before May 9. We are (there) on June 24 and still fighting. Withdrawing from a few battles does not mean that you lose the war at all,” Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that Russia may have withdrawn several generals from key command positions in the conflict in Ukraine this month.
The war had a huge impact on the global economy and European security arrangements, pushing up gas, oil and food prices, prompting the EU to reduce its heavy dependence on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to join NATO. search for membership.
The West has imposed an unprecedented package of sanctions on Russia, its top companies and its business and political elite in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a big sign of support, European Union leaders this week approved Ukraine’s formal candidacy to join the bloc — a decision Russia says Friday amounts to “enslavement” of neighboring countries by the EU. .
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)