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Russia close in on Lysychansk as Ukraine suffer Donbas setback

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that Russian troops had captured a number of key villages south of Lysychansk, allowing them to shell the town, which has already been heavily shelled for weeks, closer and raising fears that they do not attempt to encircle the Ukrainian forces from this direction.

The development is a “clear setback” for Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based military think tank, said in its daily assessment on Tuesday.

Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting a street-to-street battle for weeks for control of Sievierodonetsk, which lies across the Siverskyi Donets River. The city’s defenders were confined to its industrial zone, but they continued to hold out, Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Wednesday.

It was thought Russia might have to wait to take full control of Sievierodonetsk and then attempt a risky crossing of the river – which it has struggled with before – before it could threaten Lysychansk from the northeast. But now it seems to be moving closer to the southwest.

Russian forces “may be able to threaten Lysychansk in the coming days while avoiding a difficult crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River,” the Institute for War Studies said.

Kremlin forces have made a “tactical breakthrough” near Lysytchansk, said the intelligence chief of the Le Beck consultancy, Michael A. Horowitz, a geopolitical and security analyst.

“The Russian army has broken through some of the Ukrainian defenses and is now approaching Lysychansk,” he said. “Although they organize a firm and courageous defense of the region, the Ukrainian army may have to make difficult choices in the days or weeks to come.”

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was quoted by Ukraine’s Unian news agency on Tuesday as saying the Ukrainian armed forces had “big problems” near Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. He said the threat of the Russians trying to surround the Ukrainians in the area is “absolutely real”.

Taking the Twin Cities would give Moscow full control of Luhansk Province, bringing it one step closer to achieving its goal of capturing the entire region.

The gains will come as a boost to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has made capturing Donbass his main objective after military setbacks early in the war forced troops from Moscow to withdraw from around Kyiv, the capital city. Putin laid flowers on Wednesday in memory of the war dead as the two countries marked the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, which Ukrainian officials have compared to Moscow’s invasion of their country just four months ago.

The Russians “control about 97% of Luhansk Oblast,” said defense analyst Konrad Muzyka, director of Poland-based Rochan Consulting, which specializes in Russia and Belarus. “Once they have fully captured Sievierodonetsk and then Lysychansk, they will be close to achieving one of the objectives of the second phase of this military operation. It is extremely important for Russia that this happens from its point sight.”

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