Ukrainians to leave Syevyerodonetsk as heavy fighting continues in eastern Lugansk region

Kyiv announced the arrival of the first American long-range weapon systems that the Ukrainian army has been waiting for months, and the United States announced that it would send a new batch of military assistance including more rocket systems .

News of the June 23 arms deliveries came as Russian forces, backed by massive artillery power, continued their offensive to completely encircle the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said June 23 that US High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) are now in Ukraine.

It was not immediately clear when the HIMARS entered the country or if they were already in use on the front line, but Kyiv hopes the artillery will help turn the tide of the war that began four months ago.

“Thank you to my American colleague and friend, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for these powerful tools! The summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last for some of them,” he said. on Twitter.

The HIMARS is a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) developed for the US military in the 1970s. Russia and Ukraine already operate MLRS systems, but the six-rocket HIMARS is more advanced, with a range of 80 kilometers and superior accuracy.

Kyiv has requested 300 such systems, but Washington has donated only four so far. Germany will also send three such systems to Ukraine, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on June 23.

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Additional aid announced by the White House later on June 23 includes four HIMARS, tens of thousands of artillery rounds and patrol boats, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. The value of the package is $450 million, he said.

The announcement came after EU leaders meeting in Brussels formally agreed to take a “historic” step of making Ukraine and Moldova candidates for EU membership.

The move was welcomed by the leaders of both countries, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said there could be “no better sign of hope” for the countries’ citizens. in these troubled times.”

The announcements came as Ukraine’s army general staff said its forces had halted an offensive by Russian troops towards the southern outskirts of Lysychansk in the Luhansk region, forcing them to retreat.

“To resume the offensive, the occupiers put forward reserves”, The staff said late June 23. “The Ukrainian defenders also stopped the enemy offensive near Borivsky.”

Fighting continued elsewhere, including near Bila Hora, Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk. The military’s claims could not be independently verified.

Extensive artillery use and recent troop build-up were likely behind Russia’s improved military performance in the Luhansk towns of Lysycyhansk and its twin city Syevyerodonetsk, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said. Defense in its daily intelligence bulletin early June 23.

Military governor of Luhansk Serhiy Hayday said on June 23 that the villages of Loskutyvka and Rai-Oleksandryvka, south of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk, had now fallen into Russian hands.

He said Ukrainian forces continued to resist in Syevyerodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka.

Hayday said Ukrainian forces faced “massive” and unrelenting artillery attacks in Lysychansk and might have to retreat to avoid being cut off after Russian forces captured the two settlements to the south.

“In order to avoid encirclement, our command may order troops to withdraw to new positions,” Hayday told state television. “All of Lysychansk is within range of their fire. It’s very dangerous in the city.”

But he said Lysychansk could still be reached by road, allowing civilian evacuations to continue. Russia’s TASS news agency had previously quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying the city was surrounded and cut off from supplies.

The fight for Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk “is entering a kind of formidable climax”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Russia seeks to capture both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up most of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in Donbass.

A U.S. Army M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launches munitions during an exercise in Alaska in 2020.

A U.S. Army M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launches munitions during an exercise in Alaska in 2020.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said Ukrainian forces control less than half of the Donetsk region, adding that more than 100 towns and villages in these areas had no gas or electricity.

Kyrylenko said the 55% of Donetsk that is under Russian occupation is “completely destroyed”.

However, British intelligence noted in their bulletin that Russian efforts to achieve deeper encirclement in order to take the Donetsk region west of Luhansk remain stalled.

Arestovych said in a video address that Russia had launched the most intensive strikes in weeks on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, adding that they were aimed at “terrorizing the population”.

The bombardment, which killed at least 10 people in the Kharkiv region in two days, was aimed at “distracting us and forcing us to divert troops” from the main battlefields in Donbass, Arestovych said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told a group of European newspapers that the Defense Intelligence Service believes Russia’s momentum in the war in Ukraine will slow in the coming months as its military depletes its resources.

In the coming months, British intelligence believes Russia “could get to a point where there is no more forward momentum because it has exhausted its resources,” Johnson said.

“Then we need to help the Ukrainians turn the tide. I will advocate for this at the Group of Seven (G7) summit,” he said.

The G7 summit, bringing together British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Japanese and American heads of state, is due to begin on June 26 in Germany.

“To the extent that the Ukrainians are able to launch a counter-offensive, this must be supported by the equipment they demand from us,” he said.

A victory for Ukraine – or a failure for Russia – would at least allow Ukraine to return to the status quo that existed before the Russian invasion, he said.

With reporting from Reuters, AFP, BBC, CNN and TASS

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