Russian missiles hit Ukraine as troops withdraw from key eastern town of Sievierodonetsk

Ukrainian troops have “almost left” Sievierodonetsk after weeks of intense fighting against Russian forces, the mayor of the eastern city said on Saturday, signaling the biggest setback for Ukraine since the loss of the port of Mariupol in May.

The retreat from Sievierodonetsk, if confirmed, would bring Moscow closer to full control of Luhansk, with the province’s Ukrainian troops largely holding only in Sievierodonetsk’s twin town, Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets River.

“Unfortunately, they almost left the city,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told state television. He did not confirm whether a full withdrawal was underway after regional authorities said on Friday that Ukraine was preparing to withdraw its troops from there.

Ukrainian soldiers inspect a destroyed warehouse believed to have been targeted by Russian troops on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk’s twin city Lysychansk on June 17, 2022.Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images File

The pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper Izvestia said one of its correspondents had arrived at the Azot industrial zone in Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces had taken up positions in recent weeks.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechnya region, where troops are fighting alongside regular Russian army units in Ukraine, said on social media on Saturday that the Sievierodonetsk industrial zone and airport had been ” fully liberated”.

The capture of Sievierodonetsk would likely be seen by Russia as vindication of its move from its failed first attempt at “blitzkrieg” to a slower offensive that relied more on long-range bombing.

Moscow recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent countries and asked Ukraine to cede the entire territory of the two provinces to the separatist administrations.

Kharatin Starskyi, the press secretary of a Ukrainian National Guard brigade, said on television on Saturday that the flow of information about the withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk had been delayed to protect troops on the ground.

“Over the past (several) days, an operation has been carried out to withdraw our troops,” Starskyi said.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces attacked the Sievierodonetsk industrial zone on Friday and also tried to enter and blockade Lysychansk.

West and North Missile Strikes

Elsewhere in Ukraine, governors of western and northern regions reported multiple missile attacks, indicating that Russia was not limiting its assault to eastern territories.

“48 cruise missiles. The night. All over Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is always trying to intimidate Ukraine, to panic and scare people.”

Governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine Maxim Kozytskyi said in a video uploaded that six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at the Yavoriv base near the border with Poland . Four hit the target but two were destroyed.

In the north, Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of the Zhytomyr region, said strikes on a military target killed at least one soldier, adding that nearly 10 missiles were intercepted and destroyed.

In the south, Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of Mykolaiv near the Black Sea, said five cruise missiles hit the city and nearby areas on Saturday. The number of victims was being clarified.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the various reports.

Russia denies targeting civilians. Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.

Western support for Ukraine

Ukrainian General Valeriy Zaluzhnyy wrote on the Telegram app on Saturday that US-supplied HIMARS rocket systems are now working and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

Leaders of wealthy Group of Seven democracies are expected to demonstrate their long-term support for Ukraine and discuss how to get tough on Russia at a three-day summit in Germany starting on Sunday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will attend, said he feared Ukraine would come under pressure to strike a peace deal with Russia and that the consequences of Putin’s attempt in Ukraine would be dangerous for international security.

In a major sign of support, European Union leaders this week endorsed Ukraine’s formal bid to join the bloc – a move Russia said on Friday amounted to “subjugation” by the EU neighboring countries.

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