According to Ukrainian government officials, the Russian military has captured most of the city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports.
The city is in the contested Luhansk Oblast, which is part of the Donbas region where pro-Russian separatists started the independence movement that marked the beginning of the decades-long Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk conceded that seizing the city was taking longer than expected, despite one of the most significant land attacks of the war.
Leonid Pasechnik, who leads the pro-Moscow separatist group Luhansk People’s Republic, contends that the slow advance was purposeful because the military wanted to preserve the city’s infrastructure and many chemical processing facilities.
Despite these alleged intentions, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said that Russian airstrikes punctured a tank containing nitric acid at a chemical factory in the city. He has urged citizens to remain inside bomb shelters as much as possible and to wear gas masks if going outside is unavoidable.
The city once held over 100,000 residents, although that number is said to be down to just over 13,000 at present. Sievierodonetsk’s mayor, Oleksandr Striuk, noted that the city was being destroyed one block at a time. The remaining civilian population, unable to flee due to Russian artillery fire, is at extreme risk.
The mayor also stated that over 1,500 civilians have died in the city since the invasion began on February 24.
“Civilians are dying from direct strikes, from fragmentation wounds, and under the rubble of destroyed buildings, since most of the inhabitants are hiding in basements and shelters,” he said.
Fully capturing Sievierodonetsk would be a significant accomplishment for the Kremlin, as it is considered one of the two remaining pockets of resistance in the Luhansk Oblast. The other, Lyssytchansk, has also seen heavy shelling and bombardment in recent days.
President Putin’s war against Ukraine has seen many setbacks, including Russian soldiers being driven out of the capital region of Kyiv and northern Ukraine. Russian forces recently regrouped to focus the war effort in the Donbas region, which consists of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.
Russian state media, however, asserts that Ukrainian unity has begun to dissolve in recent days in response to the resistance movement’s losses.
Vladislav Ugolniy, a reporter for the Kremlin-backed RT, claims that multiple Russian victories and international failures have led to a loss of Ukrainian morale.
Ugolniy’s article claims that U.S. humanitarian aid did not reach the Ukrainian people because of “corruption and cronyism” in the country. It also claims that the military weapons sent by the U.S. were inferior to and ineffective against Russian forces.