Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an unannounced visit to frontline troops near the tactically-critical town of Severodonetsk, as the Russian Federation’s (RF) Donbas ground offensive slowed down, official statements and news reports stated on Monday, June 6.
Zelensky toured Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) defensive positions in the towns of Soledar and Lysychansk on Sunday, June 5. Later that day he met with civilian refugees in Zaporizhzhia who had got out of the RF-occupied city of Mariupol.
In comments made public by his office, the Ukrainian leader said tens of thousands of Ukrainian men and women have been forced to leave their families to fight in the war, while even more civilians have fled their homes ahead of RF bombardments and ground attacks.
“They are all heroes,” Zelensky said. Street-to-street fighting was reported across Severodonetsk, a city adjacent to Lysychansk. UAF and RF units roughly hold half of Severodonetsk each, Ukrainian independent and RF state-controlled media have reported.
Ukrainian social media outlets have shown images of two foreign infantry units under UAF command – the Georgian Legion and the International Legion – in close combat in the city.
RF units deployed to Severodonetsk have, according to news reports, included regular army formations, elements of the Kremlin-sponsored Wagner mercenary group, and Ukrainian civilians living in occupied territories drafted into RF-controlled militia.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional defense administration, said in a June 5 statement said he was confident UAF defenses in Severodonetsk would hold and that, if needed, they might attack to recapture the rest of the city, though that would depend on the tactical situation. Ukrainian forces want to avoid frontal attacks and high casualties if they can, he said.
The present RF tactic is to “level the city…they are trying to destroy everything, that is their tactic,” Haidai said in televised comments made public on June 5. Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) in a June 6 situation estimate reported that the RF used tube artillery, rocket artillery, mortars and tanks to hit UAF positions and civilian homes and businesses in Severodonetsk.
RF bombardments also struck villages on the approaches to the Donetsk towns of Slovyansk, Lysychansk and Bakhmut, and in Svyatohirsk, on the Siviersky Donets River, the estimate said.
A Readovka situation estimate released on June 6 stated that the key target for future RF operations would be the town of Bakhmut which, if captured by Kremlin forces, would cut practically all supplies to UAF forces defending positions in east Donbas. An “enormous grouping of Ukrainian units would be cut off,” the pro-Russia news platform said.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a June 5 statement that RF combat power in the Severodonetsk sector is weakening. RF units would continue to bombard towns and cities near them, but concerted ground attacks will become more and more difficult due to casualties and weakening morale, the estimate stated.
RF assaults against the city of Severodonetsk kicked off in late May.
The UAF launched a limited counterattack within the city, and pushed pack RF lines at a few locations on June 3-4.
In late April the RF kicked off a major offensive aimed at conquering Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk Regions.
The attacks have made slow progress and at times have been beaten back with heavy losses, particularly during a series of failed mid-April attempts to bridge the Siviersky Donets River. Svaytohirsk, another location currently targeted by RF bombardments, contains two bridges across the waterway.
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