- Ukrainians are turning to patience from Bakhmut to Sloviansk
- The Battle of Luhansk was one of the biggest battles in Europe for generations
- Putin congratulates troops on victory
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday his armed forces had not faltered in their efforts to “break” Moscow’s will to fight a nearly five-month war, while Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed his army’s victory in the grueling battle. from Luhansk.
Russia captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyschansk on Sunday, ending one of Europe’s biggest battles in generations, and completing its occupation of Luhansk province, one of two territories Ukraine has demanded to cede to separatists in the Donbass region.
As the war entered its next phase, Ukrainian forces took new defensive lines in the eastern part of the country.
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“There have been no major changes on the battlefield in the past 24 hours,” Zelensky said in a nightly video message. “Ukrainian armed forces are responding, pushing and destroying the offensive capabilities of the occupiers day in and day out. We need to break it. It is a difficult task. It requires superhuman time and effort. But we have no alternative.”
Earlier in the day, Putin congratulated Russian forces on the “victories in the direction of Luhansk.” In a short televised interview with his defense minister, the Russian president said that the participants in that battle should “completely rest and restore their military readiness”, while units in other regions continue to fight.
The Battle of Luhansk is the closest that Moscow has achieved one of its stated goals since its forces were defeated in an attempt to seize Kyiv in March. This marked Russia’s biggest victory since its capture of the southern port of Mariupol in late May.
Both sides suffered thousands of dead and wounded, while they claimed to have inflicted much greater losses on the other side, along a ring of the Siverskyi Donets that runs through Luhansk and Donetsk.
Relentless Russian bombardment devastated the Lysichansk wasteland adjacent to Severodonetsk and the surrounding cities, many of which had heavy factories used by the defenders as fortified bunkers. Russia has repeatedly tried and failed to corner the Ukrainians, eventually choosing to blow them up with artillery.
Military experts said the battle could be a turning point in the war, which would have a significant impact on the two sides’ ability to fight, although the strategic value of the devastated cities themselves is limited.
“I think it’s a tactical victory for Russia but at an enormous cost,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London. Compare the battle to the massive battles for the meager territorial gains that marked World War I.
“This has taken 60 days to make very slow progress,” he said. “I think the Russians may declare some kind of victory, but the main warlike battle is yet to come.”
Moscow hopes that Ukraine’s withdrawal will give Russian forces momentum to advance west into neighboring Donetsk province, where Ukraine still controls the cities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut.
“It hurts so much.”
Ukraine could have withdrawn from Luhansk weeks earlier, but chose to continue fighting to exhaust the invasion force. She hopes that the fierce battle will leave the Russians too drained to make gains elsewhere.
Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, admitted that his entire province was now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters: “We need to win the war, not the battle of Lyschansk … a war.”
Gaidai said the Ukrainian forces that withdrew from Lyschansk are now holding the line between Bakhmut and Slovyansk, preparing to repel any further Russian advance.
The mayor of Sloviansk said heavy shelling on Sunday killed at least six people, including a 10-year-old girl. Read more
Russia’s TASS news agency quoted military officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic as saying that three civilians were killed and 27 wounded in what they said was the bombing of Ukrainian forces.
Reuters was unable to verify the accounts of the battlefield.
Rob Lee, of the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the new Ukrainian defensive line should be easier to defend than the enclave in the abandoned Luhansk province.
“It’s something Putin can show as a sign of success,” he said. “But overall, that doesn’t mean Ukraine will have to give up or surrender anytime soon.”
Russia has said its “special military operation” in Ukraine aims to disarm its southern neighbor and protect Russian spokesmen from what it describes as nationalists.
Ukraine and its Western allies say this is a baseless excuse for blatant aggression aimed at seizing territory.
Zelensky said “huge” funding is needed to rebuild Ukraine’s devastated infrastructure.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyal told a conference in the Swiss city of Lugano that the cost could reach $750 billion and that wealthy Russians should help foot the bill. Read more
Melvin, an expert on Russia, said the decisive battle for control of Ukraine is likely not to take place in the east, where Russia is launching its main offensive, but in the south, where Ukraine has launched a counterattack to reclaim territory.
“This is where we see the Ukrainians making progress around Kherson. There are counterattacks starting there and I think we are likely to see the momentum swing into Ukraine where it then tries to launch a large-scale counterattack to push the Russians back.”
Ukraine’s hopes for a sustainable counterattack depend in part on receiving additional weapons from the West, including missiles that could neutralize Russia’s massive firepower advantage by striking deep behind the front line.
Last week, Ukraine scored its major victory, pushing Russian forces off Snake Island, a desolate but strategic outcrop in the Black Sea that Moscow captured on the first day of the war but could no longer defend against Ukrainian strikes.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the best way to end the war was to increase support for Ukraine and intensify pressure on Russia. “We are open to further sanctions” on Russia, Anderson said at a news conference alongside Zelensky earlier on Monday, adding that Moscow should not be allowed to gain from its invasion.
Sweden, along with its neighbor Finland, recently applied for membership in NATO. Anderson said it could take a year before her country becomes a full member of the alliance.
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Additional reporting by Oleksandr Kozukhar. Written by Michael Perry, Peter Graf, and Paul Simau; Editing by Simon Cameron Moore, Allison Williams and David Gregorio
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