World · June 23, 2022

Lysychansk: Ukraine may have experienced its worst week since the fall of Mariupol

For weeks, Russian forces have been trying to obliterate Ukrainian defensive positions south and east of the city in an attempt to surround and cut off the Ukrainian troops tasked with detaining it.

Over the past two days, the Russians have advanced to several villages south of Lysychansk, albeit not without suffering casualties from Ukrainian artillery fire. Indeed, the Ukrainian army claims that some Russian battalion tactical groups are being consolidated or withdrawn to restore their combat capabilities.

The Institute for the Study of War, in its latest daily analysis of the battlefield, says the Russian turn from the south means that “they may be able to threaten Lysychansk in the next few days by avoiding a difficult opposite crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River.”

The settlements that Ukrainian officials confirmed as lost on Wednesday are all on the western bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, within 10 kilometers of the city’s southern outskirts.

“The Russians are approaching Lysychansk, entrenching themselves in neighboring cities. The city has been bombed by planes,” according to Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration.

Ukrainian troops travel in armored vehicles on a road in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 21, 2022.

Hayday acknowledged that it was “difficult” in the area south of Lysychansk. “The enemy entered Toshkivka, which allowed it to increase fire on other settlements.”

He said Russian forces were entrenched in several villages immediately south of Lysychansk, including Ustynivka, Pidlisne and Myrna Dolyna, and were advancing into Bila Hora. “It is not easy for our soldiers to maintain defense,” he admitted.

During its campaign, Russia used the tactic of intense bombing before attempting to take territory. Hayday’s comments suggest that Ukrainian defenses around Lysychansk have begun to succumb to much greater Russian firepower after weeks of bombing.

Ukrainian forces continue to fight on the fringes of the neighboring city of Severodonetsk and in adjacent communities and benefit from higher ground in Lysychansk.

But their already compromised supply lines are becoming more tenuous and enormous Russian firepower is reducing defensive positions.

The setbacks suffered in recent days, after weeks of decisive resistance, probably mark the most difficult week for the Ukrainian army since the surrender of the last defenders in Mariupol.
A Ukrainian tank is in position during heavy front-line fighting in Severodonetsk on 8 June.
Russian military patrols near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on June 13, 2022.

The attacks near Lysychansk are being conducted in tandem with renewed Russian efforts to cut the highway running west to Bakhmut, a vital communication line for Ukrainians. In some places, the Russian forces are located a few kilometers from the highway.

The Ukrainian defense of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk consumed the firepower of many Russian units and blunted their efforts to make progress in the neighboring Donetsk region. However, the Russians can still appeal to reserves held in nearby areas of Russia’s southwest, while some of Ukraine’s best units have been severely depleted from months of missiles, rockets, artillery and air strikes.

But if the Ukrainians decide to dig around Lysychansk, it will likely require substantial Russian efforts, perhaps over the course of weeks, to get it. At that point it may resemble the partially flattened cities of Severodonetsk, neighboring Popasna and Mariupol.