Russia appears to have dealt Ukraine a significant setback in the battle for the country’s east, breaking through the defenses around a key city and opening the possibility that Kyiv’s troops in the area could be surrounded.
In recent days, Russian forces have gained ground around Lysychansk, according to Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts, closing in on that city while fighting for full control of its battle-scarred twin, Sievierodonetsk.
The advance puts Russia in sight of capturing or surrounding the last two holdout cities in the Luhansk province, which together with the neighboring Donetsk form the eastern industrial region of the Donbas that has become the focal point of the war.
This phase of the conflict has been marked by brutal artillery exchanges, with Kyiv urging the United States and its Western allies to urgently send more of the heavy firepower it needs to counter Moscow’s forces.
The development is a “clear setback” for Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based military think tank, said in its daily assessment Tuesday.
Ukrainian and Russian forces have been waging a street-to-street battle for weeks over control of Sievierodonetsk, which lies on the other side of the Siverskyi Donets River. The city’s defenders there have now been confined to its industrial zone but continued to hold out, Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Wednesday.
It was believed that Russia may have to wait to take full control of Sievierodonetsk and then attempt a risky river crossing — something it’s struggled with before — before threatening Lysychansk from the northeast. But now it appears to be closing in from the southwest.
Russian forces “may be able to threaten Lysychansk in the coming days while avoiding a difficult opposed crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River,” the Institute for the Study of War said.
The Kremlin’s forces have achieved a “tactical breakthrough” near Lysychansk, said Michael A. Horowitz, a geopolitical and security analyst and head of intelligence at Le Beck consultancy.
“The Russian army has breached through some of the Ukrainian defenses and are now approaching Lysychansk,“ he said. “Although they are staging a staunch and brave defense of the area, the Ukrainian military may have to make some difficult choices in the coming days or weeks.”