Ukraine is withdrawing its troops from the city of Severodonetsk, one of the last remaining strongholds in the easternmost region of the country, as Russia seeks to close in on the Luhansk province.
Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said in a Telegram post that keeping Ukrainian forces to defend the city no longer makes sense as the death toll rises. He said Russia has been shelling the city almost every day for four months, since the start of the invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had said earlier this month that the fate of eastern Ukraine was being decided in Severodonetsk. Russia concentrated its attack on the Donbas region, made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, after facing strong opposition in trying to take the country’s capital of Kyiv.
The city has seen intense fighting as Russian forces have laid siege, causing significant casualties on both sides.
Haidai said Severodonetsk’s infrastructure has been completely destroyed, with 90 percent of houses damaged or destroyed. He added that Russian soldiers are advancing toward Lysychansk, a nearby city.
Zelensky also said this month that the battle for Severodonetsk will be one of the most difficult of the war and showed appreciation to those who have defended the city.
The announcement of the withdrawal comes as Ukraine scored a significant non-military success when it was officially declared a candidate for membership in the European Union on Thursday. The process of Ukraine joining the EU may take years, but its acceptance as a candidate further connects Ukraine to the Western part of Europe as it tries to stay out of the Russian sphere of influence.