Intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces raged in the streets of the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Monday in a pivotal battle for advantage in eastern Ukraine, the provincial governor said, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had visited two cities very close to one of the most active frontlines between his country’s troops and Russian soldiers.
The Ukrainian defenders had over the weekend regained control over about half the city just as the Russians appeared on the verge of victory.
But their position had again become more perilous on Monday morning, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told state television.
“Our defenders managed to undertake a counter-attack for a certain time, they liberated almost half of the city. But now the situation has worsened a little for us again,” Gaidai said.
Gaidai did not go into details but said the Ukrainian troops were still holding their positions in the city’s industrial zone. “The fiercest fighting is in Severodonetsk. Fast-moving fighting is happening right now,” he said.
Zelenskyy said he had traveled to Lysychansk, south of Sievierodonetsk, and Soledar – rare outings for him outside Kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 and possibly the closest to the frontline yet.
“What you all deserve is victory – that is the most important thing. But not at any cost,” Zelenskyy, wearing his trademark khaki T-shirt, told Ukrainian troops in a video released on Sunday night.
Lysychansk and Severodonetsk are in the Luhansk region and Soledar is in the Donetsk region. Together they make up the Donbass, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which Russia says it is on a mission to “liberate.”
Moscow has focused most of its firepower on the Donbass after Ukraine pushed its troops back from Kyiv and Ukraine’s second-biggest city Kharkiv.
Russian forces were fortifying their positions in the Kharkiv region and “conducting intensive artillery and mortar shelling of our positions” to keep hold of the territory they had occupied, Ukraine’s military general staff said on Monday.
It said Russia was targeting civilian infrastructure in several towns in the region and the regional administration said three civilians were killed and 10 wounded in the shelling. It was not immediately possible to verify the toll. Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Russia struck Kyiv with missiles for the first time in more than a month on Sunday, with one person reported hospitalized. Dark smoke could be seen from many miles away after the attack on two outlying districts.
Ukraine said the strike hit rail car repair works, while Moscow said it had destroyed tanks sent by Eastern European countries to Ukraine.
Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the Ukrainian railway, confirmed four missiles had smashed into the Darnytsia rail car repair facility in eastern Kyiv, but said there was no military hardware at the site.
The strike was a reminder of war in Kyiv where normal life has largely returned since Russian forces were driven from its outskirts in March.
The “missile strikes at Kyiv have only one goal – kill as many as possible,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Ukraine said Russia had carried out the Kyiv strike using long-range air-launched missiles fired from heavy bombers as far away as the Caspian Sea.
Russia says the strikes are part of a campaign to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure and block Western arms shipments. President Vladimir Putin warned the United States on Sunday that Russia would strike new targets if the West supplied longer-range missiles to Ukraine for use in high-precision mobile rocket systems.
Britain said on Monday it would supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can strike targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, a move that was coordinated with the United States in response to Russia’s invasion.
‘Continue to strom Sievierodonetsk‘
Heavy fighting continues in Sievierodonetsk and Russian forces are pushing toward Sloviansk, which lies about 85 kilometers (53 miles) to the west, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Monday.
Both sides say they have affected huge casualties in Sievierodonetsk.
In Lysychansk, Russian forces fired on a bakery and several administrative and residential buildings, Gaidai said on Monday, adding one civilian had been wounded.
Evacuations summarized from the Ukrainian-held part of Luhansk province on Sunday, and 98 people had escaped, Gaidai said.
The governor of Russia’s western Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said the border village of Tyotkino had come under fire from Ukraine on Monday morning that targeted a bridge and some businesses. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Ukraine’s military reported that its forces repelled seven attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Sunday, destroying four tanks and shooting down a combat helicopter. It was not immediately possible to verify the battlefield reports.
A Russian state media journalist on Sunday said, Russian Maj. Gen. Roman Kutuzov had been killed in eastern Ukraine, adding to the string of high-ranking military casualties sustained by Moscow.