Russian Advance on Ukraine’s Donetsk Region Thwarted so Far, Kyiv Says

KYIV—Ukraine has so far thwarted an attempted Russian advance into the north of its Donetsk region but the city of Sloviansk and other civilian areas are being heavily shelled, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.

Russia has increased its focus on Donetsk, the southern part of which it and its proxies already control, after completing its seizure of the neighboring Luhansk region on Sunday with the capture of Lysychansk, which now lies in ruins.

Moscow says fully pushing the Ukrainian military out of both regions is central to what it calls its “special military operation” to ensure its own security, a now four-months-long offensive which the West calls an unprovoked war of aggression.

Donetsk and Luhansk comprise the Donbass, the industrialized eastern part of Ukraine, which Russia wants to wrest control of on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in two self-proclaimed people’s republics.

Ukrainian officials said heavy fighting had been taking place as Russian forces tried to push from Luhansk into Donetsk region and towards the city of Sloviansk.

“We are holding back the enemy on the border of Luhansk region and Donetsk region,” Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.

He said Russian regular army and reserve forces had been sent there in an apparent effort to cross the Siverskiy Donets River and that two small settlements just inside Luhansk’s borders were the scene of fierce fighting.

“Luhansk region even now is fighting. Almost all the territory has been captured, but in two settlements fighting is ongoing” he told a video briefing.

Damaged residential buildings
Damaged residential buildings in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, early on July 3, 2022. (Luhansk region military administration via AP)

Gaidai and other Ukrainian officials have said Russian forces are pounding targets in the Donetsk region with artillery.

Vadym Lyakh, the mayor of Sloviansk, told a video briefing on Wednesday the city had been shelled for the last two weeks.

“The situation is tense,” he said, speaking a day after local officials said Russian forces had struck a market and a residential area in Sloviansk and killed at least two people.

Russia says it does not target civilians.

Lyakh said 17 residents had been killed and 67 wounded since President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Its pre-war population of more than 100,000 had shrunk to around 23,000 people, he added, and more and more people wanted to leave because of the shelling.

The southern port city of Mykolaiv was also being heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, told a briefing. Russian forces were using multiple launch rocket systems to shell the city which had shed about half of its pre-war population of half a million people, he said.

“There are no safe areas in Mykolaiv,” he said. “I am telling the people of the city that they need to leave.”

Luhansk governor Gaidai said Russian forces were pillaging Lysychansk and its twin city Sievierodonetsk.

“Everything is being destroyed.”

Reuters could not immediately verify this report.

By Pavel Polityuk and Max Hunder