Kyiv [Ukraine], June 25 (ANI): Following months of gruelling and bloody fighting, Ukrainian forces have started withdrawing from Severodonetsk, one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in the area.
The move will effectively put the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk almost fully under Russian control, reported CNN.
Serhiy Hayday, a top military commander in east Ukraine, said the military made the decision to evacuate "because the number of dead in unfortified territories may grow every day."
"It makes no sense to stay," Hayday said.
However, it's unclear if Ukrainian forces are currently leaving the city, or if they have already evacuated, reported CNN.
Russian forces have diverted much of their firepower toward overrunning the city, simply destroying every defensive position the Ukrainians have adopted.
The strategy played out slowly, with the Russians making labored and sluggish gains around Severodonetsk throughout the spring and early summer.
Ukrainian forces were, little by little, pushed into a few square blocks around the Azot chemical plant, where some 500 civilians, including dozens of children, have taken shelter, reported CNN.
Hayday, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, has repeatedly accused Moscow of scorched-earth tactics, flattening cities with little regard for casualties as it attempts to take them.
"All the infrastructure of the city is completely destroyed," he said of Severodonetsk on Friday.
The battle now moves across the Siverskyi Donets river to Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk held by Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine's control over Lysychansk has become more tenuous in recent days. Russian forces have advanced into several villages south of the city, though not without sustaining losses from Ukrainian artillery fire.
The Ukrainian military claims that some Russian battalion tactical groups are being consolidated or withdrawn to restore their combat capabilities, reported CNN.
Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk together make up Ukraine's Donbas region, an industrial heartland dotted with factories and coal fields.
Shortly before invading Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two separatist territories as independent states, ordering the deployment of Russian troops there in defiance of international law. (ANI)