By Spy Uganda Correspondent
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 losing the port of Mariupol in May.
The retreat from Sievierodonetsk, if confirmed, would bring Moscow close to full control of Luhansk, with Ukrainian troops in the province largely holding out only in Sievierodonetsk’s twin city Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets river.
“Unfortunately, they have almost left the city,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television. He did not confirm whether a full withdrawal was underway after regional authorities said on Friday that Ukraine was set to withdraw its troops from there.
Russia’s pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper said one of its correspondents had arrived in the Azot industrial zone of Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces had been making a stand in recent weeks.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechnya region which has troops fighting alongside regular Russian army units in Ukraine, said on social media on Saturday that Sievierodonetsk’s industrial zone and airport had been “fully liberated.”
The capture of Sievierodonetsk would be likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a slower grinding offensive which relies more on long-range shelling.
Moscow has recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent countries and demanded Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.
Kharatin Starskyi, the press officer 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.
“During the last (several) days, an operation was conducted to withdraw our troops,” Starskyi said.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces had attacked Sievierodonetsk’s industrial zone on Friday and also attempted to enter and blockade Lysychansk.
Missiles Strikes In West, North
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. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said with much worry.