Russian forces ‘severely depleted’ in battle for Severodonetsk
Russian forces have been severely depleted in their attempt to seize control of the strategically key city of Severodonetsk, according to local officials and Western intelligence.
Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said Moscow had lost hundreds of troops in fierce street-to-street fighting over the remaining Ukrainian-controlled areas of the city.
The Kremlin had been forced to deploy reservists with little combat experience in its bid to capture the town, the last held by Kyiv in the eastern Luhansk region, he added.
In its daily intelligence update, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said some Russian Battalion Tactical Groups, typically comprised of 600 to 800 troops, had been reduced to just 30 soldiers.
“Russia’s combat force in the Donbas is highly likely to be operating in increasingly ad hoc and severely undermanned groupings,” it added.
“For both sides, fighting in the contested towns, front line combat is likely increasingly devolving to small groups of troops typically operating on foot.”
The MoD also reported that Ukraine had withdrawn troops, to more strategic defence positions, out of Severodonetsk, likely across the Siversky Donets river before its main crossings were destroyed.
But local officials have warned that Russia still has a significant advantage in heavy weaponry, allowing their forces to use artillery attacks to pummel resistance fighters into submission before launching ground attacks.
Similar tactics are being used in towns such as neighbouring Lysychansk, as the fighting continues to intensify in the Donbas, according to the Ukrainian armed forces.
"The Russian occupants continue to use all available weapons against our troops in the areas of Bilohirivka, Lysyschank and Severodonetsk," its General Staff said on Thursday in a social media post.
“The enemy does not stop trying to establish full control over the city of Severodonetsk, fights continue."
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think-tank, said Russian forces continue to launch ground assaults on the city, but have been unable to capture the Azot chemical plant.
Some 500 people, including civilians and Ukrainian fighters, are sheltering in bunkers below the sprawling industrial complex on the outskirts of Severodonetsk.
It was considered one of the last hold-outs, preventing the city from falling completely into Russian hands.
“The night passed in battles, the Russians are gathering even more weapons, attacking from several directions,” Mr Haidai said in a post on the Telegram messaging app on Thursday.
“About 500 people remain in the Azot bomb shelters, due to the intensity of the shelling.”
With the three main road bridges over the Siversky Donets river, Russia has built temporary pontoons to ensure they can cross from Severodonetsk to neighbouring Lysychansk.
In a video posted on social media, Ukrainian troops appeared to have destroyed the crossing in order to slow Moscow’s advance across Luhansk.
The MoD said without a viable crossing, the Kremlin’s forces would have to advance “on its currently stalled flanks to turn tactical gain into operational advantage”.