Russia launched “massive shelling” Tuesday of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine, the city’s mayor said, as Moscow’s forces initiated attacks in Donetsk province after winning control of neighboring Luhansk province.
In an interview on Ukrainian television, Mayor Vadim Lyakh first urged residents to flee. Hours later, he reversed course and advised them to take cover in shelters. Prior to Russia’s invasion more than four months ago, the city had a prewar population of about 107,000.
“Artillery is already hitting the city,” Lyakh warned, saying that 40 houses were destroyed by Russian shelling on Monday. On Facebook, Lyakh said one person was killed Tuesday and seven others were wounded as bombs landed in the city’s central market.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Monday that his country’s forces had taken control of Luhansk province, Sloviansk and Bakhmut, an important supply point for Ukrainian forces, appeared next in Russia’s sights as it advances in Donetsk, half of which it already controls.
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces also bombed several Donetsk towns and villages near Sloviansk in the past day but were repelled as they tried to advance toward a town about 20 kilometers to the city’s north. Ukraine said that south of the city, Russian forces were trying to push toward two more towns and shelling areas near Kramatorsk.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the war in Ukraine would continue until all the goals Putin set are achieved. However, Shoigu said currently “the main priorities” for Moscow were “preserving the lives and health” of its troops, as well as “excluding the threat to the security of civilians.”
Earlier in the war, Russia failed to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, but since then has focused on taking over the eastern industrialized Donbas region.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday it expects Russia to use the same tactics it employed to seize virtually all of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province as it pushes to control Donetsk.
“The battle for the Donbas has been characterized by slow rates of advance and Russia’s massed employment of artillery, levelling towns and cities in the process,” the ministry said in a statement. “The fighting in Donetsk Oblast will almost certainly continue in this manner.”
Putin declared victory Monday in Luhansk province as Ukrainian troops retreated from their last stronghold in the city of Lysychansk.
The Russian leader said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”
Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, told The Associated Press on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from Lysychansk to avoid being surrounded.
“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai said, explaining that Ukrainian troops could have remained a while longer but would have potentially sustained too many casualties.
“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point, withdrawal was organized well.”
Haidai told the Reuters news agency that there was nothing critical in losing Lysychansk, and that Ukraine needed to win the overall war, not the fight for the city.
“It hurts a lot, but it’s not losing the war,” he said Monday.