Russian forces are applying a wide array of weapons across several fronts in eastern Ukraine as they try to break down stubborn Ukrainian defenses, which are outnumbered and outgunned, according to Ukrainian officials.
Several of those officials describe the situation as “very difficult” and admit Ukrainian units may have to fall back in some places.
In recent days, Ukrainian officials say, the Russians have combined short-range ballistic missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, heavy artillery and tanks in a remorseless bombardment of towns and cities in Luhansk and Donetsk regions still under Ukrainian control.
The National Police of Ukraine said that civilians were killed in attacks on 13 settlements in Donetsk, with several towns not previously targeted suffering damage. Russian forces seem to be broadening the number of towns they are shelling as they try to destroy Ukrainian defenses and supply lines.
Their chief objective appears to be taking Sloviansk, which has seen an increase in shelling in recent days. Mayor Vadym Liakh said half the city is now without water, and there will be “no gas supply until the heating season.”
A growing number of Ukrainian officials describe the military situation in dire terms, although Russian advances on the ground have been modest.
Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who is on the National Security Committee, described the situation as “difficult.”
He told Ukrainian television that “the hottest spots are Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The enemy is trying to encircle our troops.”
The twin cities in Luhansk are almost entirely destroyed, but Ukrainian troops are still present. Nearly 15,000 civilians are estimated still to be in Severodonetsk.
According to the Institute for the Study of War’s latest battlefield assessment, “Russian forces may need to conduct a ground offensive on Severodonetsk in upcoming days to maintain their pace after committing a significant portion of personnel, artillery, aviation, and logistics to the front.”
Venislavskyi said that if the Russians could break Ukrainian resistance there, “their next targets are Bakhmut, Soledar,” towns that are further west.
In particular, regional officials say that the highway linking Bakhmut and Lysychansk — a resupply route for Ukrainian forces — is under constant attack.
“The enemy partially controls Lyman and goes to the outskirts of Severodonetsk. The situation in this operational area will be very difficult in the coming days,” he said.
He also suggested that additional Russian forces were being brought in, saying “the enemy continues to accumulate reserves near Izium to attack Sloviansk and Barvinkove.”
“The enemy is sending units from the Primorsky Krai, the Far East, and Siberia to Ukraine. Battalion groups are formed, loaded on the railway and sent to Ukraine,” Venislavskyi said.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said the “Armed Forces have been defending for the fourth month now. Our defensive positions are destroyed by the enemy every day.”
“Luhansk region, the part that is under the control of Ukraine, is very small in terms of territory. Therefore, the Russians will try their best to take it. For them, this is the easiest way to win at least some intermediate victory. … Our forces are gradually moving to more fortified positions,” he said.
Haidai is one of several Ukrainian officials to stress that the defenses in the east are vastly outnumbered.
“You need to understand that a huge amount of equipment and people are fighting against us,” he said.
“It takes time for [Western] weapons to reach us. They must pass from the west to the east of Ukraine. One or two howitzers will not change the position; we will simply lose them. Therefore, we need to wait and regroup,” Haidai said.
He also acknowledged the probability that Ukrainian forces would have to fall back.
“Perhaps we will have to leave one more two settlements. But we need to win the war, not the battle,” Haidai said.
Rostyslav Smirnov, an adviser to the minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, told Ukrainian television that “the advantage of the Russians in [terms of] personnel is eight to one,” and the advantage in equipment more than twice that.