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Ukrainian Army to Leave Battered City  06/24 06:11

   

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- After weeks of ferocious fighting, Ukrainian forces 
will retreat from a besieged city in the country's east to avoid encirclement, 
a regional governor said Friday.

   The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk 
region, has faced relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the 
Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory 
on the city's edge, where they holed up in its sprawling underground structures.

   In recent days, Russian forces have made gains around Sievierodonetsk and 
the neighboring city of Lysychansk, on a steep bank across the river, in a bid 
to encircle Ukrainian forces.

   Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said that the Ukrainian troops have been given 
the order to leave Sievierodonetsk to prevent that.

   "We will have to pull back our guys," he said. "It makes no sense to stay at 
the destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified 
areas will grow every day."

   Haidai said the Ukrainian forces have "received the order to retreat to new 
positions and continue fighting there" but didn't give further details.

   He said the Russians were also advancing toward Lysychansk from Zolote and 
Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units conducted forays on the 
city edges but were driven out by its defenders.

   The governor added that a bridge on a highway leading to Lysychansk was 
badly damaged in a Russian airstrike and became unusable for trucks. The claim 
couldn't be independently verified.

   The Russian Defense Ministry declared Friday that four Ukrainian battalions 
and a unit of "foreign mercenaries" totaling about 2,000 soldiers have been 
"fully blocked" near Hirske and Zolote, south of Lysychansk.

   Following a botched attempt to capture Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, in the early 
stage of the invasion that started Feb. 24, Russian forces have shifted focus 
to the Donbas region, where the Ukrainian forces have fought Moscow-backed 
separatists since 2014.

   The Russian military controls about 95% of Luhansk province and about half 
of neighboring Donetsk province, the two areas that make up the Donbas.

   After repeated requests to its Western allies for heavier weaponry to 
counter Russia's edge in firepower, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov 
said a response had arrived in the form of medium-range American rocket 
launchers.

   A U.S. defense official confirmed Wednesday that all four of the promised 
High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were in the hands of 
Ukrainian forces but said it was not clear if they have been used yet.

   The U.S. approved providing the precision-guided systems at the end of May, 
and once they were in the region, Ukraine's forces needed about three weeks of 
training to operate them. The rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).

   The U.S. will send an addition $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, 
including four more of the medium-range rocket systems, ammunition and other 
supplies, U.S. officials announced Thursday.

   IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

   An official with the pro-Moscow administration in the southern city of 
Kherson that was captured by Russian troops early in the invasion was killed in 
an explosion Friday.

   The pro-Russian regional administration in Kherson said that Dmitry 
Savlyuchenko died when his vehicle exploded in what it described as a "terror 
attack."

   There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

 
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