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After Losing Luhansk, Ukraine Forces Regather for Defence of Donetsk | World News

By Tom Balmforth and Max Hender

KYIV (Reuters) – Russian forces have focused on their next target in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, as President Vladimir Putin’s five-month-long war enters a new phase after he claimed victory in neighboring Luhansk province.

The capture of the city of Lisichansk on Sunday completed the victory of Russian Luhansk, one of the two regions of Donbass, the industrialized eastern part of Ukraine that has become the site of Europe’s biggest war in generations.

The battle for Luhansk has taken a heavy toll on both sides, especially during the siege of the then twin cities of Lisichansk and Sivirodonetsk. Both cities were destroyed by relentless Russian bombardment.

Ukrainian forces adopted a new defensive line in Donetsk on Tuesday, where they still control major cities, while Putin told his troops to “rest completely and restore their military readiness,” while units in other regions continued to fight.

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Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has claimed that Ukraine will hand over both Luhansk and Donetsk to pro-Moscow separatists, who have declared independent states.

“This is Russia’s last victory on Ukrainian soil,” Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a video posted online.

“These were medium-sized cities. And it took time from April 4 to July 4 – it’s 90 days. So many losses …”

Aristovich said that in addition to the war in Donetsk, Ukraine is hoping to launch a counter-attack in the south of the country.

“Taking cities in the east means that 60 percent of Russian forces are now concentrated in the east and it is difficult for them to redirect to the south,” he said.

“And no more troops can be brought in from Russia. They have paid a heavy price for Sivirodonetsk and Lysichansk.”

Some military experts believe that the victory of the fierce battle brought little strategic advantage to the Russian forces and that the so-called “Battle of Donbass” had a balance of results.

“I think it’s a strategic victory for Russia but for a huge price,” says Neil Melvin of the RUSI think tank in London. He likened the war to a huge struggle for trivial regional gains that was characteristic of World War I.

“It took 60 days to make very slow progress,” he said. “I think the Russians might somehow declare victory, but the battle of the original war has not yet come.”

Melvin said the decisive battle for Ukraine is probably not before, where Russia is launching its main attack, but in the south, where Ukraine has launched counter-attacks to regain territory.

“This is where we see the Ukrainians advancing around Kherson. The counter-attack has started there and I think we will probably see a momentum swing towards Ukraine because it will try to launch a large-scale counter-attack.” To push the Russians back, ”he said.

Zelensky said Monday that even though Ukraine withdrew from Lisichansk on Sunday, its troops continue to fight.

“Ukraine’s armed forces responded, pushed back and destroyed the occupiers’ offensive potential day after day,” Zelensky said in a nightly video message.

“We have to break them down. It’s a difficult task. It requires time and superhuman effort. But we have no choice.”

Since the defeat of his forces in an attempt to occupy Kyiv in March, the battle of Luhansk has been the closest Moscow has achieved to one of its stated objectives. This marks Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the southern port of Mariupol in late May.

Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to disarm his southern neighbor and protect Russian-speaking people from “fascist” nationalists. Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless excuse for clear aggression to occupy territory.

Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, Sergei Gaidai, has acknowledged that his entire province is now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters: “We have to win the war, not fight for Lisichansk … it hurts a lot, but it’s not losing. War.”

Gaidai said Ukrainian forces who had retreated from Lisichansk now held the line between Bachmut and Sloviansk, preparing to resist further Russian progress.

Reuters could not verify the battlefield accounts.

Ukraine hopes for a partially sustainable counter-attack with additional weapons from the West, including rockets that could neutralize Russia’s huge firepower facility by hitting deep behind the front line.

“It depends on how fast the supply comes,” said Aristovich.

“In the West, there aren’t enough weapons to supply. It’s after the biggest conflict since 1945 … so more weapons have to be made, and that production is going on now. And at a pace that will have a very significant set of weapons by the autumn.”

(Reporting by Reuters Burex; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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