Russian forces overwhelmed two more villages in eastern Ukraine on Thursday and closed in on the town of Lysychansk amid a slow but systematic advance through Ukraine’s industrial heartland.
Lysychansk and small areas of sister city Severodonetsk represent the final hurdle in Russia’s quest to control the Luhansk region. The fall of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka comes a day after Russia invaded the villages of Pidlisne and Myrna Dolyna.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, acknowledged that “the threat of a Russian tactical victory (in the region) is there, but they haven’t done it yet.”
The regions of Lugansk and Donetsk form the Donbass region, seat of the Russian separatist “republic”. After its failure to take the capital of Kyiv at the start of the war, Russia made no secret of its redirected efforts to control Donbass.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press that the Russians were “burning everything” in their offensive to surround the Ukrainian fighters. “The Russians are advancing without trying to spare ammunition or troops, and they lack neither,” Haidai said, adding, “They have an advantage in heavy artillery and troop numbers. “.
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►European Union leaders on Thursday endorsed Ukraine’s bid for membership, launching the beleaguered nation on a year-long path to cementing a closer relationship with the West as it attempts to distance itself from its Russian invaders.
►The United States will send an additional $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including more medium-range rocket systems, officials said Thursday.
‘Heavyweights just getting by’: How the war enters a new phase
After its early military humiliation, Russia has regrouped in Ukraine and focused its anger in the east with relentless bombardment – giving Moscow momentum as the war enters a dark new phase.
With its vast supply of artillery, armor and troops, Russia now has an advantage, experts say. Fighting in Ukraine has shifted to the eastern part of the country, its mineral-rich industrial heartland. Russian-backed separatists have been fighting for control of the region, known as Donbass, since 2014.
“About 20% of Ukrainian territory has been de facto annexed,” said Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They replaced the currency with the ruble in many areas, replaced the curriculum, including Russian history. The handpicked local authorities are Russian.”
But Ukraine still holds powerful advantages, including a fierce will to fight and new Western weapons.
The direction of the conflict will likely become clearer over the summer, when Russia is likely to try to consolidate its gains in the Donbass region. However, experts say local resistance, the steady flow of Western weapons and Russian incompetence suggest they will struggle to hold their ground. Learn more here.
—Tom Vanden Brook
Contributor: The Associated Press
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