Russian forces are stepping up attacks to conquer Severodonetsk, a key city in the Donbas, now the top priority of Vladimir Putin’s invading forces. While Russians have intensified their bombing of Severodonetsk, Ukrainians are still defending the city’s ruins, blocking a massive Moscow offensive across the Donbas.
Two civilians were killed and five wounded in bombings as Russian troops stormed the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday. Gaidai said Russian troops were attacking the city with all weapons and air support and entered its southeast and northeast areas.
Ukrainian forces have launched a “successful counterattack south of Krivoy Rog, according to Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the military administration of this southern Ukrainian city. “63 invaders were killed and 19 units of enemy equipment were destroyed, including modern T-72 tanks, a multi-grade missile missile system, artillery, helicopters and an SU-35 aircraft,” Vilkul said.
He did not provide any further details, and the information cannot be verified, but the Ukrainian army had previously announced it had registered significant progress to the south at the border of Kherson and Mykolaiv regions.
About 31% of the territory of the Kharkov region is occupied by Russian forces, while 5% was liberated by Ukrainian defenders, said the head of the regional military administration. “We are not yet in a position to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements, to carry out a complete demining and to start rebuilding the critical infrastructure, as the bombing continues. Where we can do this remotely, we do it, ” said Oleg Synegubov.
Zelensky pays visit to Kharkiv
The Ukrainian president visited troops in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, the first official appearance of Zelensky outside the Kyiv region since the beginning of the invasion. Several explosions were heard in the city of Kharkiv a few hours after Zelensky’s visit.
“Kharkiv region. The front lines of our military. I feel infinitely proud of our defenders. Every day, risking their lives, they choose freedom for Ukraine. Thank each and every one of you for your service! In this war, the invaders are trying to squeeze at least some result for themselves. But they should have understood a long time ago that we will defend our land to the end. They don’t stand a chance. We will fight and win for sure (…) 2229 destroyed houses in Kharkiv and the region. Let’s restore everything, rebuild, fill life. In Kharkiv and all other cities and villages where evil has come,” Zelensky posted on his Facebook account.
On the other hand, the Ukrainian announced on Sunday night that he had fired the head of the security services (SBU) in Kharkov for “not working to defend the city” since the beginning of the Russian invasion. The announcement came just hours after the president visited the city, on his first trip outside the Kyiv region since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24.
“I came, saw and fired the head of the security services in the region (Kharkov), because he did not work to defend the city from the first days of the war, but only thought of himself,” Volodymyr Zelenski said in his daily video statement.
Sergey Lavrov: The “liberation” of the Donbas is Moscow’s top priority
The release of the Donbas is an “unconditional priority” of the special operation in Ukraine, while the inhabitants of the rest of the territories where it takes place will have to decide their own future, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, reports Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. quoting an interview given by the head of diplomacy in Moscow to the French television station TF1.
“The liberation of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which are recognized by the Russian Federation as independent states, is an unconditional priority,” Lavrov said.
At the same time, the Russian minister said, referring to the territories in Ukraine where the Russian military operation takes place, that “it is up to the inhabitants of these areas to decide their future”, RIA Novosti reports. “They should decide for themselves in what environment they will continue to exist: in the one created by President Zelensky – banning Russian education, the media, culture, the use of the Russian language in everyday life – or in another in which they will they could raise their children the way they want, not the way Zelenski and his team want,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency.
ISW: The successful Ukrainian counterattack in Kherson will force the Russians to get reinforcement
While the Ukrainian counterattack does not appear to have a chance of reclaiming substantial territory in the short term, it is likely to disrupt Russian operations and likely force Russia to conduct reinforcements in the Kherson region, which is predominantly occupied by sub-standard units, says the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), in the latest assessment, published on Sunday night to Monday.
Ukrainian counterattacks could further slow down Russia’s efforts to strengthen administrative control of occupied southern Ukraine. Russian forces continued to attack Severodonetsk on Sunday but made no confirmed advance; Russia’s progress in intense urban struggles is likely to be slow.
The Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine – which previously sought to capture the entire Lugansk and Donetsk regions – is now focused almost entirely on Severodonetsk. It is unlikely that Russian troops will be able to conduct more than one simultaneous operation, and it is likely that in the coming days they will further de-prioritize advances south-east of Izium and west of Lyman in favor of concentrating available forces on Severodonetsk.