Ukrainian army leaves battered city to avoid encirclement

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – After weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian troops will withdraw from a besieged city in the…

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – After weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian troops will withdraw from a besieged city in the east of the country to avoid encirclement, a regional governor said Friday.

The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, has suffered relentless Russian bombing. Ukrainian forces fought the Russians in door-to-door combat before retreating to a massive chemical plant on the outskirts of the city, where they holed up in the sprawling underground structures.

In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops have been ordered to leave Sievierodonetsk to prevent that.

“We will have to withdraw our boys,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay in the destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will grow every day.”

Haidai said Ukrainian forces “have been ordered to withdraw to new positions and continue fighting there”, but gave no further details.

He said the Russians were also advancing towards Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units carried out raids on the outskirts of the city but were driven off by the defenders.

After failing to take Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in the early phase of the invasion that began on February 24, Russian forces have shifted their focus to the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been backed by Moscow since 2014. separatists fought.

The Russian military controls about 95% of Luhansk Province and about half of the neighboring Donetsk Province, the two areas that make up the Donbas.

After repeated requests to his Western allies for heavier weapons to counter Russia’s firepower, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said a response had come in the form of US medium-range missile launchers.

A US defense official confirmed on Wednesday that all four promised High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were in the hands of Ukrainian forces, but said it is not clear whether they have been used yet.

The US approved delivery of the precision-guided systems in late May, and once they were in the region, Ukrainian forces needed about three weeks of training to operate them. The missiles can travel about 70 kilometers.

The US will send an additional $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including four more of its intermediate-range missile systems, ammunition and other supplies, US officials announced Thursday.

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