KYIV (REUTERS) – Russian forces stepped up their assault on the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday (May 28) after claiming to have captured the nearby Lyman rail hub, as Kyiv stepped up calls for longer-range weaponry of the West to help it fight back in the Donbass region.
The slow and solid Russian gains in recent days point to a subtle shift in dynamics in the war, which is now in its fourth month. The invading forces appear poised to seize the entire Lugansk region of the Donbass, one of the more modest war targets the Kremlin set after abandoning its assault on Kyiv in the face of the Ukrainian resistance.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its troops and allied separatist forces now fully control Lyman, the site of a railway junction west of the Siverskyi Donets River in the Donetsk region neighboring Luhansk.
However, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the battle for Lyman continues, the ZN.ua website reported.
Sievierodonetsk, about 60 km from Lyman on the east bank of the river and the largest city in the Donbass still held by Ukraine, has been the target of heavy Russian assaults.
“Sievierodonetsk is constantly under enemy fire,” Ukrainian police said on social media on Saturday.
Russian artillery was also shelling the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must use to close a pincer movement and encircle the Ukrainian forces.
“There was significant destruction in Lysychansk,” police said.
The governor of Luhansk, which along with Donetsk includes Donbass, said on Friday that Russian troops had already entered Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian troops may have to withdraw from the city to avoid capture, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said. It was unclear whether they had started to withdraw on Saturday.
Ukrainian presidential adviser and negotiator for the peace talks Mykhailo Podolyak reiterated a call on Saturday for the delivery of long-range American-made multiple rocket launchers. U.S. officials told Reuters such systems are being actively considered, with a decision possible in the coming days.
“It’s hard to fight when you’re attacked from 70 km away and you have nothing to retaliate with. Ukraine can bring Russia back behind the Iron Curtain, but we need effective weapons for that,” tweeted Podolyak.
President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed hope in a late-night video address that allies would provide the necessary weapons and added that he expected “good news next week”.
Ukraine’s military said on Saturday its troops had repelled eight assaults in Donetsk and Lugansk in the past 24 hours.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence report that if Russia succeeded in gaining control of these areas, the Kremlin would likely view it as a “substantial political achievement”, which it could use to justify its invasion to of the Russian people.