Intense fighting in Severodonetsk has sent most of its residents fleeing. But some 500 civilians, including 40 children, are still holed up in bunkers beneath a chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian city, according to Serhiy Haidai, the Luhansk regional governor.
Haidai said Monday that the area of the plant was being shelled by heavy artillery and that the military was able to evacuate only a few people a day.
“Our troops are resisting storming action,” Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said at midday Monday. The Russians have “used artillery actively … and for now control the city center,” he said. “There is intense fighting there now.” He said that “Russian forces continue to use tactics from the time of the Second World War.”
However, Motuzyanyk added, “the occupiers are experiencing significant losses in the infantry units of the National Guard of Russia and the armed forces of Russia and are only advancing using assault aircraft.”
Haidai repeated his rejection of claims from Russian-backed separatists that between 300 and 400 troops were encircled at the Azot chemical plant, where Russian shelling ignited a fire after an oil leak on Saturday.
According to Rodion Miroshnik, an official with the pro-Moscow, self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, the hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers had tried to negotiate their passage to the nearby city of Lysychansk.
“The information about the blockade of the Azot plant is a lie,” Haidai wrote on Telegram.
It remains unclear how many soldiers are in the chemical plant. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said they do not intend to abandon their territory, but the situation in Severodonetsk — a strategic city in Russia’s quest to control the broader Donbas region — appears grim.
Incessant shelling has reduced parts of the city to rubble, and some officials have deemed it “a second Mariupol” — a reference to the southeastern port city that was largely obliterated by relentless bombardment before Russian forces captured it last month. Russia is likely to completely overpower the eastern Luhansk region that includes Severodonetsk within a few weeks, a senior U.S. defense official said.
“The fighting continues,” Haidai wrote early Monday. “The Russians are destroying quarter after quarter.”
Severodonetsk experienced heavy bombardment throughout Sunday, with shells hitting the city’s sewage facilities and the Azot plant, where people are sheltering, Haidai wrote. Thousands of civilians could be caught in the shelling.
“Yes, people have been constantly in the shelters, but the Russians are firing at residential areas for hours at a time, using large-caliber artillery,” Haidai said. “Everyone wants to evacuate now, probably, but so far there is no such possibility.”