Bitter attrition battle in Severodonetsk, house-to-house fighting
Russian Federation (RF) and Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) are locked in bitter house-to-house fighting in the city Severodonetsk, in attrition battles both sides said they are winning, official statements and news reports said on Saturday.
Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) in a June 4 morning situation report said infantry firefights and artillery exchanges were taking place across the center of the city.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional defense command, in a publicly-released video said UAF counterattacks on Friday recaptured several city blocks, and that currently RF forces hold about 60 percent of Severodonetsk. The bastion of the UAF defenses is the factory district on the south side of the city, he said.
Severodonetsk’s Azot chemical plant on Friday was fired upon continuously by RF tanks, artillery and mortars, and homes and businesses in the vicinity were badly hit, Ukraine’s UT-1 television channel reported. At least 12,000 civilians are still in the city, mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told the channel.
The RF in late April launched a major offensive in the Donbas region with the main objectives of capturing Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and the key cities Severodonetsk and Sloviask. The Kremlin’s forces have made slow and at times bloody progress against dug-in Ukrainian defenses covered by powerful artillery.
According to the AGS, the RF in the last week has transferred up to 20 battalion tactical groups – a force with possible maximum strength of 10,000 men and 2,000 armored vehicles – to beef up units pushing towards Sloviansk and Severodonetsk.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISI) in a Friday situation estimate predicted RF forces were suffering heavy losses and were unlikely to achieve a major breakthrough, but, that by attrition Kremlin units should capture Severodonetsk in one or two weeks.
In comments televised Friday evening, Myhailo Podolyak, a Presidential adviser, said that Kyiv believes the RF has suffered at least 80,000 dead, wounded and missing soldiers since its 24 Feb. invasion of Ukraine, and questioned whether the Kremlin could sustain such a pace of losses much longer.
On Friday Yury Butusov, one of Ukraine’s top combat correspondent and recently on the ground in Severodonetsk, in a Facebook post accused the army high command of relying on lightly-armed infantry with orders to fight to death in Severodonetsk, instead of massing artillery and aircraft, to halt the Russian assault.
The Radio Svoboda news agency followed by most major Ukrainian media reported men from Kyiv’s recently-formed Foreign Legion, a company-sized formation drawn up largely from NATO-nation volunteers, had taken up positions in Severodonetsk. Images showed fighters from Australia, the US, the Baltic region, and Georgia, among others, preparing to go into combat.
Friday also saw possible evidence of the appearance of modern, radar-guided UAF artillery in the Severodonetsk sector, with RF-friendly Readovka airing video of a TOS heavy flamethrower system launching a rocket towards Ukrainian positions, and a counter-strike of UAF heavy howitzer shells pounding the TOS and the ground around it, less than a minute later.
Radar-guided fires by US M777 howitzers were widely credited with stopping cold a series of RF attempts to bridge the Siviersky Donetsk River during the first weeks of May.
The battles, taking place to the west of Severodonetsk, reportedly destroyed dozens of RF tanks and armored personnel carriers, killed or wounded hundreds of RF service personnel, ended RF attempts to outflank the city.
Head on assaults against Severodonetsk have been in progress since late May.Haidai said he was confident the UAF would hold, saying “I have heard many times that Severodonetsk was completely captured by the Russian army. So I want to say no, not captured completely. Moreover, if before (Tuesday-Thursday) there was a difficult situation – at that time about 70 percent of the (city was) occupied territory, then somewhere around 20 percent has been taken back. I see the reinforcements that are coming to our military, and I understand that two weeks… no, it’s not real, they won’t take it. “
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