Russia will focus on Ukraine’s Donetsk region after taking Luhansk, says regional governor | world news
KYIV (Reuters) – Russia will shift the main focus of its war to Ukraine in an attempt to seize the entire Donetsk region after capturing the nearby city of Luhansk, the governor of the Luhansk region said on Monday.
Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Reuters in an interview that he expected the city of Sloviansk and the town of Bakhmut in particular to come under heavy attack as Russia tries to take full control of what the we call the Donbass in eastern Ukraine.
Russia claims to have established full control over the Luhansk region after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the bombed town of Lysychansk, although Gaidai said fighting continued in two small villages.
“The loss of the Luhansk region is painful because it is the territory of Ukraine. For me personally it is special. It is the homeland where I was born and I am also the head of the region”, Gaidai said.
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“In military terms, it’s wrong to leave positions, but there’s nothing critical about it. We have to win the war, not the battle of Lysychansk,” he said. “It hurts a lot, but it’s not losing the war.”
He said the withdrawal from Lysychansk had been “centralized” and orderly, and was necessary to save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers who risked being surrounded.
“They (Russian forces) will not transfer 100% of their troops to a front because they have to hold the line. If they leave their positions, then ours can carry out a kind of counter-offensive,” Gaidai said. .
“Nevertheless, for them, the number 1 objective is the Donetsk region. Sloviansk and Bakhmut will be attacked – Bakhmut has already started to be shelled very hard.”
Since abandoning its assault on the capital Kyiv, Russia has focused its military operations on the industrial heartland of Donbass, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk, where Moscow-backed separatist proxies have been fighting Ukraine since 2014.
Bakhmut, Sloviansk and nearby Kramatorsk lie southwest of Lysychansk and are the main urban areas resisting Russian forces in Donetsk.
Gaidai said the week-long battle for Lysychansk had drawn in Russian troops who could have fought on other fronts and had given Ukrainian forces time to build fortifications in the Donetsk region to make the situation “more difficult for the Russians there”.
“The (Russian) tactic will be the same. They will shoot at everything with their artillery, but it will be difficult for them to advance,” he said.
Reiterating Ukrainian calls for more weapons from Western allies, who “understood too late” what was happening in Ukraine, Gaidai said his country’s forces could launch a counteroffensive when they had enough long-range weapons.
“They fire at our positions 24 hours a day from a distance,” he said.
Russia says its “special military operation” in Ukraine launched on February 24 aims to protect Russian speakers from nationalists. Ukraine and its allies say this is a baseless pretext for a war of aggression aimed at seizing territory.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, editing by Timothy Heritage)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.