Ukraine has launched a counterattack on the city of Sievierodonetsk and has recaptured a fifth of the city it had previously lost to Russian invaders, according to the region’s chief.
Serhany Haidai, governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces were renouncing recent gains in the city, as reports of foreign fighters joining the battle for the easternmost city of Kyiv in the fiercely contested Donbas also emerged.
The governor told Ukrainian television that Russia had “previously managed to capture most of the city,” but added in a tweet that the military had pushed them back 20 percent. “They’re really suffering big losses,” he said.
The claims are hard to verify in the midst of heavy fighting. The Russians have concentrated their efforts on trying to encircle and capture the city for the past two weeks, advancing at a rate of 500 meters to one kilometer a day.
Russia’s war in Ukraine: latest developments Ukrainian forces have counterattacked in Sievierodonetsk.
Ukrainians fighting on the Eastern Front estimated that their forces controlled “about 30%” of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday, more than some rough estimates from late last week. They said Russian forces were running out of infantry troops and could not advance.
Slava Vladimirovich, a Ukrainian soldier in the Donbas battalion, said the Russian army was striking the neighboring town of Lysychansk.
Two civilians were killed in a Russian artillery attack, he said. Thousands of civilians were still in the city, but many seemed reluctant to leave. “We were supposed to evacuate ten people. Only three showed up. The poor are afraid of losing what little they have. There is no water in the city and long queues of civilians waiting at the distribution points.”
Foreign fighters from countries such as Australia, Georgia, France and Brazil were also being deployed by Ukraine to Sievierodonetsk, according to a widely circulated video report. He presents an interview with a masked soldier, who he said was from Australia, saying he had “stepped up” to join the fight.
A second soldier, who spoke English with an American accent, said he was a “22-year-old boy” from Georgia and vowed to help push back the Russians. “We are on the right side of history,” he added.
Residents are being evacuated from Slavyansk on June 4. Photography: Bernat Armangué / AP
But the risks to foreign fighters in a brutal and deadly conflict remain considerable. The International Legion of Ukraine on Saturday acknowledged that four people from the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and France had been killed.
They were named by Ronald Vogelaar, Michael O’Neill, Björn Benjamin Clavis and Wilfried Blériot. Dutch media reported earlier that Vogelaar, 55, had been killed by artillery fire near Kharkiv last month; while 47-year-old O’Neill was said to be a humanitarian worker when he was reportedly killed in late May.
Blériot, 32, had appeared in a film in early March, where he told the Argentine publication Clarin that he was “ready to die” when he left Poland. He said he had spent “a year in the French army” and cried when he spoke of his two young children.
Russia wants to capture Sievierodonetsk, which had a population of 100,000 before the war, and Lysychansk, on the other side of the river, to complete the capture of Lugansk Oblast, one of the two claimed Donbas regions. for Russia.
From there they hope to capture the Ukrainian cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk in the neighboring Donetsk province.
Heavy explosions were heard on Saturday from the center of Slavyansk, from Russian artillery in the distance and from the response to the Ukrainian fire. The city’s air raid siren sounded repeatedly.
Some people were walking the streets of Slavyansk buying food. The city has no gas or water and has intermittent electricity. Many residents have left, but some have been left behind and another group has returned to the main cities of Donbas after fleeing and then running out of money.
A Russian wooden Orthodox church near the Sviatohirsk monastery, about 12 kilometers north of Slavyansk, was depicted burning as a result of the fighting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said four people had been killed and four others injured in a Russian attack. Zelenskiy said three hundred people, including 60 children, were housed in the monastery complex.
British defense intelligence said Russia had been able to combine “air strikes and massive artillery fire to use its overwhelming firepower” and thus support “its progressive advance”.
A woman pushes a stroller near a building damaged during a Russian attack on Slavyansk on June 4. Photography: Bernat Armangué / AP
But the British said it had come at a cost. The use of “unguided ammunition has led to the widespread destruction of built-up areas in the Donbas.” The film, released by Luidsk Governor Haidai in the early hours of Saturday, showed damaged and burning apartment blocks as bombings were heard nearby.
Haidai acknowledged that the situation of the Ukrainians in Sievierodonetsk remains difficult, but said that he believes that the defenders could now endure another fifteen days. A Russian victory in that time period “was unrealistic,” he added.
After that, the governor said, he hoped that the newly promised Western Himars (multi-launch rocket systems) could tip the scales in favor of Kyiv, allowing Ukraine to target the Russians at a greater distance than before.
“As soon as we have enough long-range Western weapons, we will move their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry will only be executed,” the governor added.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Friday that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had told him that Russia would now “speed up” the invasion. New tactics have been identified that “will significantly increase the effectiveness of offensive maneuvers,” Kadyrov added.
But in an overnight assessment, the Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank that closely followed the conflict, said it was skeptical about the claims made. Accelerating the pace of progress, the institute said it believed that “it is unlikely that Russian forces will be able to do so.”
Russian authorities began issuing passports in Kherson and Melitopol on Friday, according to the institute. The Ukrainian army said Russian occupiers were facing growing resistance in the southern region, which had forced Moscow to reinforce its troops there.