Russia advances in Donbas and shells heavily on Mikolaiv and Kharkiv
Russian troops threaten from the south the city of Lysychansk, in the Lugansk region, after capturing Toshkivka. Lysychansk and Severodonetsk are the last two major cities still controlled by Ukraine in the province which, together with Donetsk, constitutes the Donbas industrial region. Separated by a river, they became the stronghold of the Ukrainian army in recent months, as Russia seeks to claim a political victory by finally capturing the province.
In Severodonetsk, fighting continues in the industrial zone, where more than 500 civilians and an undetermined number of Ukrainian soldiers are based at the large “Azov” chemical plant. After Russia destroyed all bridges over the river, only a limited connection to Lysychansk remains. The risk of encirclement in the area is quite high, according to analysts. It appears, however, that the Ukrainian military hopes to make Russia pay a large price for conquering the province and buy time while Ukraine hopes to receive more Western weapons and train its soldiers to use them. It is also trying to prevent Russia from directing more resources to Kharkiv and Kherson, where Ukraine has been slowly gaining ground in recent weeks.
The losses on the Russian side are really high. More than 11,000 people, 55% of the original fighting force of the so-called Russian-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic, were killed or wounded. Men are being taken off the streets in Donetsk, out of their workplaces and universities and sent to the front line with little or no training and outdated weapons.
The Institute for the Study of War reports that Russia is reshuffling its military leadership once again, which may point to dissatisfaction with the high losses Russia is suffering in Donbas. While avoiding the announcement of general mobilization to replenish its battered troops, Russia is trying to recruit mercenaries and military reserves. According to the Ukrainian military, a 15,000-strong unit is being prepared in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, which could be used to attack Kyiv.
Prior to Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belarus, Ukraine’s smaller neighbor announced military exercises near the Ukrainian border. So far, Belarus has not sent its soldiers to Ukraine. Polls show that its population generally opposes military involvement. Its dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, who relies on Putin’s support to stay in power after barely surviving last year’s mass protests, appears to be trying to avoid involvement in the war. However, the country’s infrastructure has been widely used by Russian ground and air forces to launch attacks on Ukrainian soil.
Meanwhile, the organization “Doctors Without Borders,” which runs a hospital train that transports wounded civilians to hospitals in safer areas of Ukraine, said it saw signs of an “outrageous level” of “indiscriminate violence” being inflicted on civilians in Ukraine. More than 40% of the 650 people evacuated were elderly and children. Most of them, 73%, suffered blast injuries, while more than 10% lost at least one limb. Many patients speak of indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and evacuation convoys by Russian troops.
In the eastern region of Kharkiv thousands of people have returned to their homes in the area since Ukraine managed to drive the Russian army away from the city, but their hope of returning to a normal life is continually dashed by Russian missile and artillery attacks.
The southern city of Mikolayiv suffered a massive missile attack on Wednesday. Russia is trying to destroy the infrastructure of the city, located about 40 kilometers from the front line.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are trying to close in on Kherson, the only regional center captured by Russia since the start of the invasion. There are signs of possible partisan warfare in the Russian-occupied area. The car of a Russian-appointed official was blown up on Wednesday in Chornobaivka.