Severodonetsk. "Mariupol 2.0" or the first step of strategic success?

It is becoming evident that the Ukrainian militants have little prospect other than to lay down their weapons and surrender

On June 8, Ukrainian President Zelensky said in his address that the city of Severodonetsk is currently the epicenter of the confrontation in Donbass. Ukrainian and other media had previously reported that heavy combat was underway in the city and that city districts were repeatedly captured by warring parties and, moreover, that the Ukrainian army launched a counteroffensive and took control of a large part of the city.

This may give the impression that the Ukrainian military is stubbornly defending the city, while the Russian Armed Forces and LPR People’s Militia are unsuccessfully attacking it and suffering heavy losses. In addition, the reports in the Western media may suggest that the efforts expended on Severodonetsk do not correspond to its strategic value at all.

On the other hand, data is often published that, despite heavy fighting, Allied troops have by now completed the operational encirclement of the enemy grouping in the city and liberated almost all residential quarters, except for the industrial area where the chemical plant, the Azot plant, is located. Thus, talk of a “Mariupol 2.0” has already begun. It is clear that the combat is persistent, and the available information is contradictory and often does not reflect the course of events.

To understand what is happening in this area, it is worth understanding the significance of the city where the combat is currently taking place.

Severodonetsk is a relatively small city with a population of just over 100,000 people. It is located on the left bank of the Seversky Donets River in the eastern part of the Lugansk region. Together with neighboring towns and villages, including Lisichansk, the city forms an agglomeration and a major hub of the Ukrainian chemical industry. The Severodonetsk Azot plant is the main city enterprise and the largest chemical enterprise in Ukraine. Overall, the Lisichansk-Severodonetsk agglomeration has more than 340 thousand residents.

Until 2014, Severodonetsk was a regional city, and since September 2014, it has been the regional center of the part of Lugansk region that was under control of the Kiev authorities. Currently, Severodonetsk and Lisichansk remain the last major cities that were part of the Lugansk region and have not yet been liberated from the Ukrainian armed units and nationalist battalions.

The Seversky Donets River, which flows behind the city, is a natural barrier to advancing Allied units, so the bridges connecting the city to Lisichansk are of significant importance.

In addition, the city is a major transportation hub that allows access to several roads of regional importance, and high-quality highways in modern warfare are always extremely important. There is also an airport near the city in the Borovskoye village.

Map of roads near Severodonetsk

The entire agglomeration of the city is a fortification, which is part of the network of prepared defensive lines of the Kiev regime in Donbass (Slavyansk-Kramatorsk-Seversk-Severodonetsk-Lisichansk-Popasnaya-Avdeevka line). In particular, roads connect Severodonetsk with Seversk, with the city of Bakhmut (before 2016 it was called Artyomovsk), and from there you can go to Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Avdeevka and other towns.

Therefore, the significance of Severodonetsk in the liberation of Donbass should be considered taking all these circumstances into account. The moral and informational significance of the liberation of the part of the LPR and industrial areas that remained under Kiev’s control, the control of transport routes, and the break-in of defensive areas are all important here. At the same time, Severodonetsk itself is important only as a part of the entire defensive line of the Ukrainian army in Donbass. If the advancing LPR and Russian Armed Forces militia break the defenses in one place or seize a transport junction, it makes the supply of units and the defense of the Kiev regime’s armed units in other areas problematic.

Combat for the city

The first mentions of combat near the city date back to early March, which means that it appears as early as a week after the start of the military special operation in Ukraine. But photos and videos testifying to the deployment of artillery crews by the Ukrainian army in the city’s residential areas appeared on the Internet as early as February 26. In other words, civilians have been used as human shields for the artillery crews, which today surprises no one. It should be pointed out that the city and surrounding areas had been prepared for defense long before the start of the special operation, and it was prepared thoroughly.

Additionally, we should note that the area around the city consists of large areas of forest, as well as smaller towns with large areas of open space. Given the above, it is clear that the city is not easy to take under control. All the more so because of the defensive fortifications built on the approaches to it. In this regard, the front line was lined up along a natural barrier – the Seversky Donets River and the adjacent villages and towns.

Obviously, a frontal attack on this area would have accomplished nothing. According to media reports, there were position battles with active use of artillery by both sides throughout March.

The situation began to change around mid-April, when allied forces of the Russian Armed Forces and LPR People’s Militia began to make noticeable advances and occupy villages around the city. As mentioned above, the forces were not concentrated only on this direction. Separate advances were noted along the entire front line in Donbass (Liman, Rubezhnoye, Popasnaya, etc.), and there was also an assault on Azovstal in Mariupol at this time. It is also worth emphasizing that the allied forces are fighting in Ukraine with the numerical superiority of the enemy, and that by that time the mobilization and formation of territorial defense units had already taken place on the territory of Ukraine.

At the end of April, the Ukrainian army’s positions were subjected to massive artillery fire. On May 5, the mayor of Severodonetsk Aleksandr Stryuk said in an interview with 1+1 TV channel that the city was virtually encircled. At the same time, the media reported that combats were underway on the outskirts of the city near the villages of Voyevodovka, Sirotino and Voronovo.

On May 15, the head of the Lugansk Regional Military Administration (RMA) Sergey Gaydai stated that combat was underway 4-5 km from the city on the northern and southern sections. Apparently, the main intention of the allied forces was to take the city into an operational encirclement.

Armored fighting vehicle Terminator – tank destroyer
Pyotr Danilov © Rossa Primavera News Agency

In mid-May, there was an event that characterizes the peculiarity of fighting in the direction of Severodonetsk. A video of one of the local residents who filmed a column of armored vehicles, which included Russian Terminator tank support vehicles, appeared on the network. The peculiarity of this equipment is that it was created specifically for the case of assault on fortified positions and support of tanks that become vulnerable to infantry and anti-tank systems. The main objective of the Terminator is to destroy enemy troops and light armored vehicles, including in urban areas, with a level of protection equal to that of tanks. This means that the leadership of the Russian Armed Forces decided to use this unique equipment, making the offensive actions more effective and reducing personnel losses during the assault.

Also in early May, it became known that units from Chechnya, which had already proven effective during the battle of Mariupol, were participating in the liberation of villages around Severodonetsk.

On May 28, the head of the Lugansk RMA Sergey Gaydai stated that Ukrainian forces near Severodonetsk might have to retreat from the region in order not to be surrounded and captured by Russian troops.

On 30 May, it became known that allied troops had entered the outskirts of Severodonetsk. On 31 May, the mayor of Severodonetsk Aleksandr Stryuk said that Russian troops took about half of the city under control. The LPR head said however that only a third of the city had been liberated.

As of June 1, according to media reports and statements by Sergey Gaydai, 70% of the city was under the control of the advancing Allied forces. It also became known that the units of the Ukrainian army were leaving Severodonetsk. The remaining armed units were blocked at the Azot plant. All attempts by the Ukrainian army to break through to residential areas and counterattack are blocked and suppressed with artillery, so there is no reason to speak of Kiev’s control over the city.

On June 4, the head of the Russian National Defense Management Center Mikhail Mizintsev reported that the Ukrainian army had suffered critical losses (up to 90% in some units) and were retreating from Severodonetsk in the direction of Lisichansk.

All statements that appeared in the media about successful counterattacks by the Ukrainian side and their occupation of a large part of the city on the eve of June 5-6 can only be associated with the fact that at that time President Zelensky himself visited the area of combat (apparently, to be personally convinced of the dramatic situation in the Severodonetsk direction).

On June 5, the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov published a new video confirming that Russian troops had taken control of Severodonetsk’s residential area. The video shows Apty Alaudinov, an aide to the head of the republic, driving around the city in a car, including along the main street, showing the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine – translator’s note] building and talking to local residents. On June 7, the LPR ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the complete liberation of residential areas.

It is worth noting that throughout May, both Aleksandr Stryuk and Sergey Gaydai spoke in the media that there were between 10 and 15 thousand civilians in Severodonetsk, which they could not evacuate from the city for various reasons. However, according to reports from Ukrainian correspondents and volunteers, there has been no centralized evacuation from the city, and the number of civilians in the city may be much higher. Moreover, the situation of civilians is ard due to the fact that the Ukrainian armed units continue to shell residential areas of the city from positions in Lisichansk, which is located at a strategic height with respect to Severodonetsk.

As noted by LPR servicemen, all approaches to the city, including major roads and small paths have been mined and are being actively demined. There are also enemy saboteurs and snipers operating in the forest belt and urban development, which also requires separate efforts to neutralize them.

The approaches to the city from all directions are blocked, and all the bridges over the Seversky Donets River are in the direct line of sight of the Allied forces and exposed to fire. The situation for the Ukrainian army is aggravated by the fact that the main bridges linking Severodonetsk and Lisichansk are already damaged, and the passage of large equipment across them is becoming virtually impossible. However, experts claim that the condition of the bridges allows small groups of infantry to cross the river. Besides, it’s summer now, and the river has become shallow and has a sandy bottom. This makes it possible for small reinforcements to cross and retreat from the city. However, it has become impossible to systematically supply the defenders at the Azot plant.

Azot chemical plant

Severodonetsk Azot enterprise

At the moment, the Azot chemical plant is the main stronghold of Ukrainian troops in Severodonetsk. This fact makes the situation similar to that in Mariupol, but only similar, not completely the same. It is noted that the system of bomb shelters and shelters at the plant is not as large and extensive as at Azovstal. In particular, the official representative of the People’s Militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic Andrey Marochko told the RT channel on June 2 that the bomb shelters at the chemical plant are not the same as at Azovstal, for example, they do not have “several floors”.

In addition, the production buildings are also not as extensive and rather scattered, and the area of the industrial zone is much larger than that of Azovstal, which makes it less convenient to defend the territory.

The situation is complicated by the fact that there are a lot of chemicals at the enterprise. On June 4, the head of the Russian National Defense Management Center Mikhail Mizintsev told the media that Ukrainian forces intended to mine tanks with saltpeter and nitric acid in a total volume of over 100 tons at the Severodonetsk Azot enterprise. According to him, blowing up these tanks with toxic chemicals would allegedly allow to delay the offensive of the Russian Armed Forces by creating a chemical contamination zone. In addition, it gives the possibility to accuse the Russian Armed Forces of “creating a man-made ecological catastrophe”. It is more difficult and dangerous to use weapons of artillery caliber at the facility because of these circumstances.

Also on June 2, it became known that several hundred civilians, who were forced there under various pretexts, were being held in bomb shelters at the plant. The LPR representative Andrey Marochko said this. The next day, this information was confirmed by the head of the Lugansk RMA Sergey Gaydai to CNN. According to his data, there are about 800 people at the enterprise. However, according to him, they are there voluntarily and have taken chelter (apparently, near the saltpeter and nitric acid).

Later, on June 9, the situation with the civilians in the basements of the Azot plant was confirmed by Apta Alaudinov, an aide to the head of the Chechen Republic. He claimed that 300 civilians were being forcefully kept in the basements of the plant, and the exits were booby-trapped. Alaudinov said that the civilians cannot leave the territory of the factory because they are being used as human shields.

All these factors complicated the liberation of the industrial zone. Nevertheless, a cautious storming of the Azot plant began almost immediately after the liberation of the residential area. So already on June 10, according to war correspondents working in the battle zone, a large part of the industrial district was liberated.

On the same day, the LPR ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik reported that the Ukrainian militants blocked at the Azot plant in Severodonetsk were trying to negotiate the conditions of their withdrawal from the enterprise. He stressed that the “Ukrainian armed units” have no ways to retreat, and the only conditions that can be accepted are “laying down their arms and surrendering.”

On June 11, Rodion Miroshnik said that there were about 400 Ukrainian fighters at the Azot plant, who had entered into negotiations and demanded that they be released along with the hostages toward Lisichansk. “Such demands are unacceptable and will not be discussed,” the ambassador stressed. Later, this information was confirmed by the RIA Novosti news agency’s source in the defense ministry, pointing out that more than a thousand civilians are in the basements of Azot, including workers of the plant, members of their families and residents of neighboring neighborhoods.

Late in the evening of June 11, Miroshnik reported that civilians began leaving the chemical plant, which had been liberated from Ukrainian militants. According to him, the remnants of the Ukrainian units continue to hold several buildings near the first gatehouse of the plant.

It becomes evident that the Ukrainian fighters (which include not only representatives of the Ukrainian army, but also members of nationalist organizations banned in Russia) have little prospect but to lay down their weapons and surrender. According to various military experts, defending a large territory without an extensive system of shelters and fortifications by such small forces becomes very problematic, even if the area is mined and hostages held. And while in Mariupol 2,439 militants surrendered, in Severodonetsk there are considerably fewer.

Further, judging from media reports, including those in the Western media (as well as from testimonies of captured Ukrainian fighters who took part in the defense of the city), supplies there differ greatly from those in Mariupol for the worse. In addition, the morale of the Ukrainian fighters, which was undermined by the quick assault, played a certain role, otherwise there would have been no attempt at negotiations.

Moreover, it is clear that the focus of the offensive is shifting to other parts of the front. The success of Allied forces in the area of Artyomovsk (now Bakhmut) is looming allowing the establishment of the control over the highways that link Lisichansk, Seversk, and Slavyansk is being established. This is largely due to the intensity of artillery and aviation use. If the Allied forces manage to take control of the most important roads, the Kiev regime will have to reconsider its defense strategy in Donbass and retreat to new positions to save people and avoid a new encirclement – possibly much larger than in Severodonetsk. This is a critical moment, and if the Ukrainian army fails to hold the front, one could speak of a strategic defeat greater than Mariupol.

Nevertheless, the situation in Severodonetsk is by no means solved, and it would be premature to speak of it as resolved. All we can say now is that the situation will be resolved there in the coming days.

Source: Rossa Primavera News Agency

Leave a Reply