Fresh attacks near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv injured a dozen people on Thursday as Russia targeted the country’s north and south in a bid to divert Ukrainian reinforcements from the epicentre of fighting in the Donbas.
The diversionary strikes came as the governor of the Luhansk region said Ukrainian troops may have to abandon Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, the twin cities at the centre of the fiercest fighting, in the face of overwhelming Russian assaults.
“In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions,” he said on national television. “All of Lysychansk is within reach of their fire. It is very dangerous in the city.”
Russian breakthroughs over the past two days have prompted warnings the two-month battle for the twin cities on the Siversky Donets river could soon be reaching its climax.
The British Ministry of Defence said the Russians had advanced more than three miles towards the southern edge of Lysychansk since Sunday, jeopardising the remaining supply route to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Thursday evening that its troops had repelled a Russian assault on the city’s southern fringes and that the enemy was regrouping.
Gen Valery Zaluzhny, the head of the Ukrainian armed forces, appeared to confirm a withdrawal was being considered, writing in a post that “we are forced to conduct a mobile defence, to occupy more advantageous lines and positions”.
He did not give further details.
American weapons delivered
Ukrainian generals hope their full-throttled defence of the cities will have caused Russia significant casualties and bought time for deliveries of Western weapons they hope could turn the tide of the war.
The first of those weapons, American Himars rocket launchers, arrived in the country on Thursday.
“Thank you to my American colleague and friend Lloyd Austin for these powerful tools!” Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian defence minister, wrote on Twitter. “Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them.”
He did not say how many of the systems had been delivered.
Himars out-range and are more accurate than the Russian equivalent, and Ukraine hopes they will allow it to win the artillery duels that have become a defining feature of the battle for Donbas.
Meanwhile, Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said Russia had renewed attacks on other cities to “terrorise the population” and force Kyiv to pull resources back from the fight in the Donbas.
Brutal shelling in Kharkiv
Authorities in Kharkiv, on Ukraine’s northern border with Russia, have said shelling this week has been the worst since a Ukrainian counteroffensive pushed Russian forces out of the artillery range in May.
Loud explosions were heard in the city on Thursday evening. At least 15 people were killed in shelling around Kharkiv on Tuesday, and the casualties are mounting.
“Russia occupation forces continued to sow terror and shell civilian infrastructure in Kharkiv and the Kharkiv region overnight,” Oleh Synehubov, local governor, said on Thursday morning.
In the suburb of Chuhuev, which was badly damaged in the first weeks of the war, at least seven people including two children were injured in shelling on a residential area, Mr Synehubov said, adding that this is not the final number of casualties.
On Wednesday, bodies of two elderly women were found in the rubble of a house hit by Russian shelling, authorities said.
The governor of the Sumy region, to the north of Kharkiv, said Russia also fired Grad rockets across the border at a Ukrainian village there on Thursday.
Powerful explosions were also reported in Mykolaiv and Odesa in the south on Thursday morning but no details were immediately available.
Vitaly Kim, governor of Mykolaiv, said Ukraine is seeing Russia’s renewed efforts to seize all of the Kherson region and move closer to Mykolaiv.
“The enemy is deliberately trying to intimidate the civilian population,” he told national TV, adding that the Russians are reportedly hoping to reach the border with Mykolaiv in less than two months.
Ukraine’s General Staff said this morning that Russian forces have been pulling artillery to the region but Mr Kim said he does not see Moscow having enough capabilities to reach the city at this point.