Sloviansk: Fight for this city could be “next key fight” in Russia’s war in Ukraine

It makes the city of Sloviansk, more than 300 miles east of the capital Kyiv, a potentially important battlefield in the coming weeks.

“The efforts of Russian troops advancing from Izyum to capture Slovyansk are likely to prove to be the next key issue in the war in Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC said in an update on Monday. conflict in Ukraine. Its report uses other transcriptions of Ukrainian place names.

ISW expects Russian troops to launch an offensive against the city from nearby Izium in the coming days, a forecast that matches ground-level warnings.

“They are going south to Kamyanka because it is the road to the city of Sloviansk,” Max Strelnyk, a deputy at the Izium city council office, told CNN late last week about Russian military plans. “We have radio interceptions in their talks; their mission is to reach the Donetsk region from the north. ”

The road leading to Izium, seen from Sloviansk at the end of March.

On Wednesday, Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said: “If we talk about key policies where fighting will continue, it’s Slovakia. [Donetsk region] and Barvinkove [Kharkiv region] instructions. “

The people of Sloviansk, a city of over 100,000 people before the invasion, are now urged to leave it while Ukrainian forces prepare to defend it against a new Russian attack.

Control of the city has significant military significance in wider conflicts. If Russian forces pull over Sloviansk, they could stop Ukrainian forces in a wider area. However, if they are held back by opposition from Ukraine, Russia’s ambitions to control both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions will be severely shaken.

Military importance of Sloviansk

Sloviansk was a major focus of the war in Donbas province in 2014 and was briefly detained by pro-Russian separatists before being repulsed by Ukrainian forces in July of that year.

Its importance now lies primarily in the fact that it is surrounded on three sides by Russian-owned cities – Izium in the north, Luhansk in the east and Donetsk in the south – but lies deeper west in the Donbas region than the two. the latter places, which impedes Russia’s further into Ukrainian territory.

“Russian forces are likely to halt Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine and will have to take Slovyansk as a minimum,” ISW said.

Russia’s successful attack on the city would give Moscow the opportunity to join forces with those fighting in Rubizhne, northeast of Sloviansk, or move them south, towards Horlivka and Donetsk, to try to encircle Ukrainian fighters there, the group added. .

But Russia appears to have suffered a number of military failures during the first six weeks of the invasion, and its inability to reach cities further west, such as the capital Kyiv, has likely led it to refocus on the Donbas.

In this context, a new Russian defeat in the face of Ukraine’s resistance could even jeopardize their new policy in the east.

“If Russian forces are unable to capture Slovyansk at all, it is unlikely that the attacks on the Russian front in the Donbas will overthrow Ukraine’s self-defense and Russia’s campaign to reach all of Luhansk and Donetsk regions is likely to fail,” ISW said.

Humanitarian disaster imminent

Supported Russian troops now advancing from Izium towards Sloviansk are made up of teams from the 1st Tank Army that had previously been in the Kharkiv-Sumy region in the north, ISW said on Tuesday.

They do not yet contain the units that were withdrawn from the Kyiv region, the agency added. And it says that the operation towards Sloviansk has “continued on a small scale and has had limited success” so far this week.

But Russia could increase its attack on the city when more units become available. Sloviansk residents were ordered to evacuate on Monday amid fears of a massive attack and subsequent humanitarian crash in the city.

Such a fate has already befallen Izium, which has been the target of persistent attacks by Russia for weeks. On Monday, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters that Russian forces “still fly more than 200 campaigns a day,” and that “most of their airstrikes are aimed at the Izium area.

Residents are preparing to board a train in Sloviansk on Tuesday, following the Ukrainian government's order to evacuate.Residents are preparing to board a train in Sloviansk on Tuesday, following the Ukrainian government's order to evacuate.

“It’s getting worse every day,” Strelnyk told CNN about the humanitarian situation in Izium on Friday.

Russia’s bombing – which began a few weeks ago – has not been halted by Russia. , “Strelnyk said.

“In the city, the dead are buried in the center of our city,” he told CNN. Video footage that has been located in the area and CNN verified its authenticity showed corpses all over the city center.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said heavy fighting was raging in eastern Ukraine, with the regional governor of eastern Luhansk region urging civilians to evacuate several towns. Sloviansk is located in the northern border of the Donetsk region.

Russia could intensify its offensive in eastern Ukraine.  Here's what it meansRussia could intensify its offensive in eastern Ukraine.  Here's what it means

But officials in the two regions have spoken out about their difficulty in getting people out or helping them in.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of attacking humanitarian tunnels and bombing cities.

Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol in the south, said on Tuesday that Russian troops had blocked the delivery of humanitarian supplies and prevented the evacuation of civilians.

“The humanitarian situation has not improved,” Fedorov said in a televised address. “In the last two weeks, we have managed to bring only two humanitarian loads to Melitopol.”

Alex Stambaugh, Nathan Hodge, Yulia Kesaieva and Tim Lister of CNN all contributed to the reporting.

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