Russia Blows Up Key Bridge, Cutting Potential Syevyerodonetsk Escape Route
By RFE/RL June 12, 2022
Heavy fighting and shelling are raging around Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, with local officials saying Russian forces destroyed a bridge linking the twin cities, cutting off a potential escape route for civilians and soldiers.
Serhiy Hayday, the military governor for the Luhansk region, said on June 12 that Russian forces had blown up the second of three bridges linking besieged Syevyerodonetsk with larger Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River.
Hayday said street-by-street fighting was taking place in Syevyerodonetsk as Ukrainian defenders desperately held on against powerful Russian armor and infantry advances.
Hayday said Ukrainian forces remained in control of Syevyerodonetsk's industrial area and a chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering from the Russian shelling.
Despite the desperate situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remained defiant, saying in a national address that Ukrainian forces had prevented Russian troops from quickly overrunning eastern Ukraine.
"Remember how in Russia, in the beginning of May, they hoped to seize all of the [eastern Ukrainian region of] Donbas?" Zelenskiy said. "It's already the 108th day of the war, already June. Donbas is holding on."
Syevyerodonetsk has been the focal point of recent fighting that Kyiv has said could determine the outcome of the war, which began on February 24 with Russia's unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The city itself has been blasted into ruins by the shelling and fighting, with the situation resembling conditions seen at the southern port of Mariupol, which fell to Russian forces after a long, bloody battle in late May.
Hayday said the destruction of the bridge across the Siverskiy Donets River leaves just one transit route remaining to allow a potential evacuation of civilians and a withdrawal of troops from Syevyerodonetsk to Lysychansk.
An explosion hit the Azot nitrogen chemical plant in Syevyerodonetsk on June 11, and fires were burning there into the evening. Hayday said hundreds of people were sheltering at the plant.
Moscow-backed separatist fighters, meanwhile, said they had surrounded the plant and claimed that Ukrainian defenders were trapped there.
"All escape routes are cut off for them," Rodion Miroshnik, a separatist official in the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram.
The claims could not be independently confirmed.
Russian artillery also pounded Lysychansk on June 12. The city, which has a population of about 100,000 people, sits on the western bank of the river, facing across to Syevyerodonetsk.
The General Staff also said Russian troops had gained a foothold in the village of Bohorodychne, a village on the west bank of the Siverskiy Donets River, about 50 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk.
Taking Bohorodychne puts Russia forces in good position to attack a bigger, more important town, Slovyansk.
The destruction of Syevyerodonetsk is reminiscent of what occurred in the port city of Mariupol, where residents and fighters took cover in and below a steel plant there before being surrounded and eventually surrendering to Russian forces.
The port city of Berdyansk, southwest of Mariupol, was rocked by three early morning explosions on June 12, with reports saying an electrical substation was knocked out, leaving much of the city without power.
In the western region of Ternopil, at least 22 people were wounded when four Russian cruise missiles hit a military installation and some residential buildings, the regional governor said on June 12.
In a post to Facebook, Volodymyr Trush said the missiles were launched from the Black Sea, and casualties in the June 11 strike included a 12-year-old.
Russia's Defense Ministry said the sea-launched Kalibr missiles that hit Chortkyv destroyed a "large depot of anti-tank missile systems, portable air-defense systems, and shells provided to the Kyiv regime by the United States and European countries."
Ukrainian officials made no comment on whether a weapons cache had been destroyed in Chortkyv.
A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, forcefully pushed back against a statement by U.S. President Joe Biden, who asserted that before the February 24 invasion, Zelenskiy had "tuned out" U.S. intelligence warnings about an imminent Russian attack.
Mykhaylo Podolyak also criticized Western countries for not supplying Ukraine with heavier weaponry earlier.
"What other countries have done to stop it, knowing Moscow's plans -- a question. If we had started getting heavy weapons in January, the situation could have been different," he wrote on Twitter.
Another adviser to Zelenskiy suggested that Ukrainian losses since the beginning of the war totaled as many as 10,000.
Oleksiy Arestovych was asked during a televised interview on June 11 about the daily death toll for Ukrainian troops, which other Ukrainian officials say is running around 100 per day.
Based on that number, Arestovych was asked by interviewer Mark Feygin if 10,000 was an accurate figure. "Yes, somewhere like that," Arestovych replied.
Verifiable figures for the death toll in the war -- Russian or Ukrainian -- have been difficult to come by. Ukraine has not released any official figures, saying it is a state secret. But Zelenskiy, and other officials, have said repeatedly 100 per day is accurate.
For Russia, meanwhile, Ukraine asserts its death toll has surpassed 30,000. Russia has released no official tally since April, when it said around 1,300 of its troops had died in the war.
Western officials, however, say Russia's death toll likely exceeds 20,000, which would surpass the entire death toll that the Soviet military suffered in its decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In his nightly video address to Ukrainians, Zelenskiy renewed his call for Western countries to speed up weapons deliveries.
Ukrainian troops "are doing everything to stop the offensive, as much as they possibly can, as long as there are enough heavy weapons, modern artillery -- all that we have asked for and continue to ask for from our partners," he said.
Zelenskiy asserted Russia wanted to destroy every city in the Donbas, the eastern Ukrainian region that includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"Every city, that's not an exaggeration," he said. "All of these ruins of once-happy cities, the black traces of fires, the craters from explosions -- this is all that Russia can give to its neighbors, to Europe, to the world."
Britain's Defense Ministry said on June 11 that Russia was resorting to older, more powerful weapons and missiles because it is running short of more precise modern weaponry.
The ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing that Russian bombers had likely been launching 1960s-era heavy, anti-ship missiles against land targets in Ukraine. The missiles, which can be armed with nuclear warheads, were designed to destroy aircraft carriers.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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