Ukrainian forces will retreat from a besieged city in the country's east to avoid encirclement, a regional governor said Friday, after weeks of ferocious fighting over control of the city.
Sievierodonetsk, the administrative centre of the Luhansk region, has faced relentless Russian bombardment in recent weeks. At one stage, Ukrainian troops fought Russians in house-to-house battles, before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the city's edge.
In recent days Russian forces have made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the neighbouring city of Lysychansk, across the river, in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said that Ukrainian troops have been given the order to leave Sievierodonetsk to prevent that.
“We will have to pull back our guys,” he said. “It makes no sense to stay at the destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will grow every day.”
Haidai said the Ukrainian forces have “received the order to retreat to new positions and continue fighting there,” but he didn't give further details.
Meanwhile, he said that Russians were advancing toward Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units conducted forays on the city's edges but had been driven out by its defenders.
Following early attempts to capture Kyiv in the early stage of the invasion, Russian forces have shifted their focus to the Donbas region, where the Ukrainian forces have fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The Russian military now controls about 95% of Luhansk province, and about half of neighbouring Donetsk, the two areas that make up the Donbas.
US sends more weaponry
At the same time, the United States is set to send a further $450 million (€427 million) in military aid to Ukraine, officials announced Thursday, including additional medium-range rocket systems.
The latest package includes four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which will double the number the Ukrainian military currently has.
All four are in Europe, and training on those systems has already begun with the Ukrainian troops who will use them, Anton Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
The first four HIMARS that the US previously sent have already gone to the battlefield in Ukraine and are in the hands of troops there.
According to the Pentagon, the aid also includes 18 tactical vehicles that are used to tow howitzers, enabling the weapons to be moved around the battlefield, as well as 18 coastal and riverine patrol boats, in addition to thousands of machine guns, grenade launchers and rounds of ammunition, and some other equipment and spare parts.
The new aid comes just a week after the US announced it was sending $1 billion (€950 million) in military aid to Ukraine.