In Severodonetsk, officials described grim prospects after nightlong assaults by Russian forces, including the loss of a hotel on the northeast edge of the city.
Late Thursday, Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told ICTV, a Ukrainian privately-held broadcast channel, that there was “fierce fighting” and Russians were advancing on Myr, a hotel just inside a main ring road near the city’s bus station. He said that it was “more [intense],, but the city is still holding on” at that time. “We hope that our armed forces can hold on as long as needed to go into counter-offensive.”
By early Friday morning, the Russian troops controlled the hotel, and the city was under attack from different directions, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said in a post on Telegram.
Officials indicated the city was not yet lost but a fresh assessment from the Institute for the Study of War, based on online reports, showed that Russians forces were gaining and encircling key areas in Luhansk region where they control over 95 percent of the territory.
“The city held on,” Stryuk said in a video interview Friday with Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service. The situation is very tense. Almost two-thirds of the city’s perimeter are occupied by the enemy and the city is subject to tough defense.”
Haidai said Friday evening that the city was not entirely surrounded, yet.
Late Thursday, Stryuk described the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway — Severodonetsk’s “main artery” for delivering humanitarian aid and evacuating people — as under constant shelling. Stryuk said Friday that 90 percent of residential buildings were damaged, the majority so badly that they can no longer be used and need to be fully restored.
Evacuation for civilians remained dangerous, he added, as paths come under “constant fire.”
Stryuk said about 13,000 people remain in the city. He estimated that 1,500 people have been buried since the start of the war — yet calculating the dead or how many people are in hiding is difficult, he added.
“There aren’t that many bomb shelters,” Stryuk said. “The vast majority of residents are hiding in cellars and repositories in residential buildings.”
Residential areas are in ruin, he said. When the interviewer on Thursday likened Severodonetsk to “a second Mariupol,” Stryuk responded: “Almost.”
Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.