President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks are aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region, urging Ukraine’s allies to accelerate the shipment of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.
The fight for the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region is “entering a sort of fearsome climax”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Zelenskyy. Russia is seeking to capture Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbas region – the nation’s industrial heartland.
“We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly,” Zelenskyy said in a video address released early on Thursday, reiterating Ukrainian demands for larger and faster weapons.
“There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier’s goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step,” he said.
“This is why we again and again emphasise the acceleration of arm[s] deliveries to Ukraine. What is quickly needed is parity on the battlefield in order to halt this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders.”
Ukrainian forces were defending Severodonetsk – where hundreds of civilians are believed to be trapped in a chemical plant – and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Thursday, but added Russia had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.
“The situation is extremely difficult – the Russians collected all the reserves and sent all this to the assault on Severodonetsk,” Haidai said in his daily briefing. “The Russians are simply covering entire neighbourhoods with heavy fire,” he added in a later post on his Telegram channel.
Moscow claimed that Ukrainian forces were surrounded and trapped in Severodonetsk.
On Lysychansk, Haidai said it was “very dangerous in the city” as all of it was within reach of Russian fire.
“In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions. There may be a regrouping after last night,” he added.
The TASS news agency cited Russian-backed separatists as saying Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road connecting the city to the town of Sieviersk was taken.
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence said Russian forces “have highly likely advanced” more than 5km (3.11 miles) towards the southern approaches of Lysychansk since June 19.
“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled,” it said on Twitter. “Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-[Severodonetsk] pocket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance … However, its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled,” the ministry added.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 23 June 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/IMlKAZ5Kay
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) June 23, 2022
Russia renews shelling of Kharkiv
As the fierce struggle of attrition grinds on within the Donbas, Russian forces resumed pounding Ukraine’s second-biggest metropolis Kharkiv close to the Russian border.
The Russian strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday on Kharkiv were the worst for weeks in an area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Moscow’s forces back last month.
Kyiv characterised the strikes, which reportedly killed at least 20 people, as a bid to drive Ukraine to drag assets from the primary battlefields within the Donbas to guard civilians.
“There isn’t any let up within the shelling of civilians by the Russian occupiers,” Oleh Synehubov, governor of Kharkiv area, wrote on Telegram.
“This is proof that we can’t count on the identical situation as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing underneath strain.”