A Ukrainian fighter in Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2022 (Reuters)
Source: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1353 GMT:
Russian units carried out more artillery attacks and airstrikes on the embattled cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine on Saturday.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said that, in Sievierodonetsk’s industrial zone, the Russians struck the Azot chemical plant where more than 500 civilians are trapped.
He said Russian forces tried to enter and blockade Lysychansk, where 19 civilians were evacuated by police, rescuers, and volunteers on Friday.
Sieiverodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said almost all Ukrainian defenders have withdrawn from the city.
Footage of the destruction of Popasna by Russian forces, who now occupy the town in the Luhansk region:
Video of ruins of central Popasna, Luhansk Oblast
Ukrainian troops left the city on 8 May after two months of heavy fighting. Most of the buildings in the city have been destroyed by the multiple Russian artillery, rocket, missile, aircraft attacks.https://t.co/IkHelKzsO2 pic.twitter.com/TkV9xcXYX8
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) June 24, 2022
UPDATE 1339 GMT:
The Ukraine Prosecutor-General’s office says it has registered 19,530 alleged cases of Russian war crimes.
The office said it has confirmed the killing of 339 children.
— Офіс Генерального прокурора (@GP_Ukraine) June 25, 2022
UPDATE 1331 GMT:
Russia has escalated its missile strikes on Ukraine to the highest level yet during the invasion, journalist and activist Olga Tokariuk reports:
A record number of missiles was fired by Russia on Ukraine this night and morning: more than 60, according to the latest figures. Many were launched from the territory of Belarus. They targeted Kyiv, Lviv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Khmelnytskyi, Dnipro, Mykolayiv, Kharkiv regions
— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) June 25, 2022
Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of the Zhytomyr region in northern Ukraine, said, “Nearly 30 missiles were launched at one military infrastructure facility very near to the city of Zhytomyr.”
The mayor said about 10 missiles were intercepted and destroyed, but the strikes had killed at least one soldier.
In the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine, governor Vyacheslav Chaus said the small town of Desna came under “massed” rocket strikes on Saturday morning. There were no casualties, but there was “infrastructure damage”.
In western Ukraine, four people were wounded in an attack on the Yavoriv military facility in the Lviv region, said governor Maxim Kozitsky.
UPDATE 1323 GMT:
The Ukraine military claims in its latest report that about 34,700 Russian troops have been killed, and thousands of armored vehicles and hundred warplanes lost, in Moscow’s invasion.
— Stratcom Centre UA (@StratcomCentre) June 25, 2022
UPDATE 1309 GMT:
UK military intelligence backs up reports (see Wednesday’s coverage) that the Kremlin has fired senior commanders over failures in the invasion of Ukraine.
Russian and Ukrainian sources said the commander of Airborne Forces, Gen.-Col. Andrey Serdyukov, has been dismissed. The overall commander of the invasion, General of the Army Alexander Dvornikov, has been removed from his command of Russia’s Southern Group of Forces.
UK intelligence adds that Col.-Gen. Sergey Surovikin, Dvornikov’s replacement at SGF, has been dogged with allegations of corruption and brutality in his 30-year career.
UPDATE 1304 GMT:
Ukrainian scientists say more than 3,000 dolphins in the Black Sea have died because of the Russian invasion.
The scientists said “sonar and explosions prevent them from finding food”, with dead dolphins increasingly found on the coasts of Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania.
UPDATE 0705 GMT:
Ukraine’s domestic security agency says it has uncovered a Russian spy network including Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach.
Derkach has been named by US agencies as a Russian agent. He was a central figure in the efforts of Donald Trump and his allies, namely lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to coerce the Ukrainian Government into disseminating “dirt” on Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden in 2019 — an effort which led to Trump’s impeachment.
The Ukrainian service said Derkach, whose whereabouts were not revealed, set up a network of private security firms to enable and support the entry of Russian units into Ukraine’s cities. He was allegedly paid $3.4 million every several months by the Russians for his assistance.
UPDATE 0635 GMT:
The European Council has approved €9 billion ($9.5 billion) of financial aid to Ukraine.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at the Council summit in Brussels on Friday, “There is a war in Ukraine and there is nothing to pay nurses, teachers, police, border guards or many other public services.”
Germany has signed an agreement to provide Ukraine’s state budget with €1 billion ($1.06 billion) in grant funding “to finance priority social and humanitarian expenditures during martial law”.
Ukraine will receive the money via the International Monetary Fund.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the Ukrainian Government and economy needs $5 billion each month to sustain essential services.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Ukrainian defenders have begun their withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk, one of the last two cities held by Ukraine in the Luhansk oblast in the east of the country.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai made the announcement on Ukrainian TV on Friday morning: “Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense.”
Haidai said in a morning report on Telegram that “the number of dead is growing”. He noted, “All critical infrastructure has been destroyed. 90% of the city is damaged, 80% [of] houses will have to be demolished.”
The head of the Sievierodonetsk district military administration, Roman Vlesenko, confirmed that the withdrawal has begun. He said it is expected to last a few days.
Since early April, when Russian forces withdrew from northern Ukraine and began a last-gasp offensive in the Donbas in the east, the Ukrainians have resisted the capture of Sievierodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk across the Siverskyi Donets River.
But the Russians have a 10:1 artillery advantage, devastating the city centre, and have cut the three bridges across the river. That raised the prospect of Sievierodonetsk being cut off, and the Ukrainian troops surrounded with no route of escape.
About 10,000 to 12,000 civilians remain in the city, out of a prewar population of 160,000, in a critical humanitarian situation amid the cutoff of food, electricity, gas, and water.
Oleksandr Musiyenko, a Kyiv-based military analyst, summarized:
Our forces had to withdraw and conduct a tactical retreat because there was essentially nothing left there to defend. There was no city left there and, secondly, we could not allow them to be encircled.
Concern is also rising about Lysychansk. While it is on higher ground for defense than Sievierodonetsk, the prospect of siege is imminent as Russian forces advance from the south and threaten to encircle the city from three sides.
Defenders repelled a Russian attack on the southern outskirts on Thursday, but but the Russians took control of the village of Mykolaivka near a key highway.
“Not a Major Turning Point”
Despite the imminent loss of both cities and the rest of the Luhansk oblast, the US-based Institute for the Study of War assessed, “It will not represent a major turning point in the war.”
Ukrainian troops have succeeded for weeks in drawing substantial quantities of Russian personnel, weapons, and equipment into the area and have likely degraded Russian forces’ overall capabilities while preventing Russian forces from focusing on more advantageous axes of advance. Russian offensive operations will likely stall in the coming weeks…likely granting Ukrainian forces the opportunity to launch prudent counteroffensives.
Maria Zolkina, a political analyst at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Kyiv, echoed that the defence of Sievierodonetsk has served Ukraine’s objectives.
However, now is the right time to pull back, she wrote:
2) #Ukraine has 3 main goals: keep the land, keep the army and exhaust #Russia’s army up to maximum. Battle for #Sievierodonetsk was more and more about exhausting RU skilled human resources last weeks. And now it is about saving #UAarmy units, who are our main resource. 3/
— Maria Zolkina (@Mariia_Zolkina) June 24, 2022
She added, “Sievierodonetsk will be treated by Russian propaganda as big victory, of course. But in #Ukraine it is just one more example of heroism and skills. Sometime, you need to step back to save the army. Especially, if city was devastated to rubble by heavy RU bombardments.”