Even as the battle for Sievierodonetsk enters its critical stages and Russian forces storm into the fiercely contested city, Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said the evacuation of civilians still continues during every “quiet” moment.
After more than a month of heavy fighting, Russian troops control about 80% of Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai told the Associated Press on June 14. Moscow’s forces have destroyed all three bridges leading to the city, further complicating logistics and civilian evacuation efforts.
Mass civilian evacuation from the last major city in Luhansk Oblast under Ukrainian control now is “simply not possible” due to the relentless shelling and fighting, according to Haidai.
Speaking on Ukrainian television on June 15, Stryuk said that an unknown number of civilians remain trapped in Sievierodonetsk and the humanitarian situation is “critical.”
Stryuk added that there were roughly 10,000 people when street fighting began, roughly a tenth of the city's pre-war population. Governor Haidai hinted that the real number may be as high as 12,000 while speaking to AP.
Since Russia shifted its war machine to eastern Ukraine, heavy fighting and shelling continue throughout Donbas as the Kremlin's forces are slowly but steadily advancing to control more territory.
Sievierodonetsk, a city key to Moscow’s aim of capturing Donbas that encompasses the two provinces of Ukraine's industrial heartland (Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts), is now the site of the most intense combat as the conflict has shifted into a war of attrition.
As Russian troops try to trap Ukrainian forces in the town, both sides are suffering huge casualties in street-by-street battles for the industrial city. Sievierodonetsk is now a largely abandoned ruin where battle lines sway often, with each side periodically claiming to have expelled the other from parts of the city.
Ukrainian forces currently control the industrial zone of Sievierodonetsk, even as Russian troops continue to storm the city from multiple fronts, Stryuk said. He added that the Ukrainian soldiers are also taking measures to oust the Russians from the city.
However, he acknowledged that logistics to support Ukrainian forces fighting in his city continues to be difficult.
The last bridge connecting Sievierodonetsk from the twin city of Lysychansk to the west was declared impassable yesterday by local authorities. “Massive shelling” has destroyed the bridge but the city is not cut off, Stryuk said.
“There are communication channels even if they are quite complicated,” he said, without disclosing further details.
While admitting that it has become more difficult to support the Ukrainian defenders, Stryuk said that there are “some reserves” in the Azot chemical plant where a part of Ukraine’s Armed Forces remains, along with “around 540 to 560” civilians sheltering inside, though the exact figure is unclear.
Intense Russian bombardment of the plant continues. Stryuk said the industrial site sheltering hundreds of civilians is simply being destroyed, disrupting internal communication.
The plant is the target of shelling and though survival is “possible,” it is clear that these are inhumane conditions, Stryuk told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on June 15.
Stryuk’s comment comes days after an oil leak ignited a massive fire at the Azot plant, where he says there were victims and hopes that there won’t be anymore leakage of chemicals from the plant.
Meanwhile, Russian troops continue to shell the Azot plant using large-caliber weapons, which include bombards and siege guns.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the battle for Sievierodonetsk was taking a “terrifying” human toll.