Ukraine's government on Friday announced for the first time that its remaining forces defending the key eastern city of Severodonetsk have been ordered to withdraw, after having lost control of most of the city to Russian forces for weeks, amid relentless shelling and persistent Ukrainian army complaints of being low on ammo and men.
"Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn't make sense," Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said, after Severodonetsk had been nearly completely encircled over the past days. "Ukrainian armed forces will have to retreat from Severodonetsk. They have received an order to do so."
Like in prior instances of defeat in the Donbas region, the government is emphasizing the new action as a 'strategic retreat': "They have received orders to retreat to new positions... and from there continue their operations," Haidai told Ukrainian television.
It remained unclear how quicky the withdrawal and evacuation from the city will take place. Haidai in the Friday morning statements described a city infrastructure entirely destroyed, estimating that over 90% of houses had been shelled. It had a pre-war population of over 100,000 and it's believed there could be 10,000 or more civilians still there. Haidai stressed that Severodonetsk has been "nearly turned to rubble".
The announced Ukrainian retreat marks a significant point of momentum for Russian forces in the four month long war, given the fall of Severodonetsk means Russia's military now effectively holds the entirety of Luhansk province.
Ukraine is running out of ammunition for its Soviet-era artillery. The shortage points to a years-long sabotage campaign by Russia that’s intensified in recent months. Story with @PaulSonne: https://t.co/9BfpYQpFtS— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) June 24, 2022
Ukrainian officials have also acknowledged that nearby Lysychansk is also being overtaken by Russian forces. Starting Thursday Ukrainian troops began withdrawing from parts of the frontline city to "avoid being encircled" - as Reuters wrote - amid what's looking like may be complete rout from the region.
Besieged Lysychansk is likely to suffer a similar fate as Severodonetsk, also with an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 civilians still trapped there, reportedly with nowhere to go. With both cities, Russian forces systematically destroyed key bridges in the area while issuing ultimatums to holdout Ukrainian fighters:
"You have two options," a commander of the pro-Russian separatists battling to take the city warned Ukraine's defenders. "Surrender or die."
Still, each major Ukrainian army exit is dubbed by its leadership a withdraw to more fortified positions, and not as defeat.
At the same time, the battle for the city has highlighted a glaring discrepancy between Russian artillery capabilities and superior supply compared to a lack of the same on the Ukrainian side. One British military veteran who is currently assisting Ukrainian forces as a foreign trainer told CBS of a "sheer unevenness" of the battlefield due to the Russian military's "overwhelming hardware" advantage.