Sievierodonetsk and its neighbouring city, Lysychansk, continue to be battered by intense Russian shelling as Moscow edges closer to seizing the last pocket of resistance in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region.
Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Haidai, said on Wednesday that Russian forces were moving towards Lysychansk, targeting the buildings of police, state security and prosecutors.
“Lysychansk is constantly suffering from enemy fire … Massive shelling significantly destroyed infrastructure and housing,” Haidai said in a post on Telegram
Sievierodonetsk is also shelled “every day”, he added.
Ukrainian officials have said that the coming days will be decisive in Russia’s efforts to take Sievierodonetsk, as fears in Kyiv grow that Russian advances could envelop the entire region.
Russia is now believed to control all of Sievierodonetsk with the exception of the Azot chemical plant, where about 500 Ukrainian citizens and an unknown number of Ukrainian troops are hiding.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Tuesday evening that Russian forces could soon cut off Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk from Ukrainian-held territory.
“The threat of a tactical Russian victory is there, but they haven’t done it yet,” he said in an online video.
Russia has been aiming to capture Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk for months, bombing much of the area’s civilian infrastructure in the process.
Control of the two cities would give Moscow command of the entire Luhansk region and allow its forces to focus on the neighbouring Donetsk region. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces combined are known as the Donbas.
During his nightly video address on Tuesday, Zelenskiy admitted that the military situation in Luhansk was very difficult as Russia stepped up an effort to drive Ukrainian troops from key areas.
“That is really the toughest spot. The occupiers are pressing strongly,” he said.
In its latest intelligence briefing, Britain’s defence ministry said that Russia was “highly likely preparing to attempt to deploy a large number of reserve units to the Donbas”, in a push to make further gains in the region. Britain further said that pro-Russian separatists were experiencing “extraordinary attrition” in the Donbas.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia resumed its shelling of Kharkiv, the country’s second-biggest city, on Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, Oleh Synegubov, the regional governor, said that at least 15 civilians were killed in the Kharkiv region as a result of Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure.
The city, which was returning to normal life after Ukraine pushed back Russian forces, experienced some of the worst Russian shelling to date in the last week, as worries grow in Kyiv that Russia is mounting another attack on the city.
Ukrainian military on Wednesday provided more detail about Monday’s attack on Snake Island, saying it had destroyed a Russian air defence system, radar installation and vehicles on the strategically important Russian-controlled Black Sea island.
Russia’s defence ministry said it prevented the Ukrainian attack, which Moscow claimed was meant to land Ukrainian soldiers on the island.
“The unsuccessful fire attack forced the enemy to abandon the landing on Snake Island,” the Russian military said in a statement.
Satellite images provided by US-based Maxar Technologies showed an overview of Snake Island on Tuesday, with damage visible to the tower on the southern end of the island and burned vegetation in several places.
Meanwhile, Ukraine was accused on Wednesday of using two drones to hit a major Russian oil refinery in the Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine.
“As a result of terrorist actions from the western border of the Rostov region, two unmanned aerial vehicles struck at the technological facilities of Novoshakhtinsk,” representatives of the plant said in a statement.
Social media footage on Wednesday morning showed a drone flying towards the refinery, located just five miles from the border with Ukraine, before a fire explosion erupts from it.
Pro-Russian separatists also accused “Ukrainian saboteurs” of staging a “failed assassination” on the Moscow-appointed head of a town outside Kherson, a Black Sea port city occupied by Russia.
The Russian state agency TASS, citing local security services, said that the head of the town of Chernobaevka, Yuri Turulev, was lightly injured as a result of a car bomb attack.
The extent of partisan warfare in Kherson is difficult to measure, with little information trickling out of the occupied region, but several attacks have recently been reported in Kherson on Russian soldiers as well as Ukrainian officials who switched sides to collaborate with the Russians.