Russian forces have reportedly seized most of Severodnetsk city in eastern Ukraine, which represents the last Ukrainian stronghold and major city of the Luhansk region. Less than 24 hours ago, multiple international outlets reported Russian forces had gained half the city.
On Tuesday Western media outlets reported intense street by street fighting and warned of a 'Mariupol repeat' – strongly suggesting Russian forces are about to imminently capture the city. "The city is still in Ukrainian hands, and it's putting up a fight… (but) evacuations are not possible due to the fighting," head of the city council, Oleksandr Stryuk, announced.
But on a strategic level, Severodnetsk is even more important that Mariupol. Sky News reports, referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin, "If his forces capture Severodonetsk, it would give Moscow control of the whole of Luhansk – and would be his biggest victory in the invasion so far."
Sky News details Tuesday based on local sources:
Yesterday, Russian forces were at the eastern edge of Severodonetsk – and had taken a power station and a hotel. Overnight, they have slowly moved in towards the center of the city.
Small Ukrainian units which were holding up the Russian advance have had to pull back, with reports suggesting they are moving to the west of the Siverskyi Donets river, towards the city of Lysychansk.
Giving an update from a pocket of resistance that has held back the broader Russian offensive in the Donbas, Serhiy Hayday, the Luhansk governor, told Ukrainian state television there were around 15,000 civilians left in Severodonetsk.
By all accounts, Russian troops have now penetrated deep into the city. Over the weekend Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted for the first time that the situation of his forces on Donbas remained "very difficult".
He described last night in an update during his daily address that 90% of Severodonetsk's houses had been damaged. "More than two-thirds of the city's housing stock has been completely destroyed," he said. "There is no mobile connection. Constant shelling."
Highly likely that the Ukrainians are conducting a fighting retreat from Severodonetsk right now. https://t.co/vzR5FChSfD
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) May 31, 2022
On the Russian side, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told French television that for Moscow it reamains an "absolute priority… to push the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian battalions out" of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Plumes of orange smoke have been seen above the city, following a reported Russian strike on a chemical plant:
31/5: #Severodonetsk-Plumes of orange smoke rising from explosions
-home of giant #Azot chemical plant which produces nitrogen-based fertilisers in normal times
-also is a major regional employer
— Rani Kaur Hayer (@RKHayer) May 31, 2022
This also after Western pundits and officials have slowly begun to realize that Russia's advance in the east is steadily gaining, in contrast to some prior reports and broader narratives suggesting the Ukrainians were winning there.