Smoke rises above Severodonetsk, during shelling on May 26. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk regional military administration, said Saturday the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk was “not cut off,” as Russian troops press a concerted offensive in the Luhansk region. 

Hayday said intense Russian shelling was underway in Severodonetsk, an industrial center which is the last major stronghold of Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region. 

“The shelling continues,” he said. “The Russian army is destroying the city, shelling with all kinds of weapons. Russian troops entered the outskirts of the city, the Mir Hotel. We can’t get them out of the hotel yet, but they have a lot of dead. Our guys are holding them back.”

Severodonetsk, added Hayday, “is not cut off but, by and large, trucks will not pass there, only cars. Many cars were shot on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut route. It is dangerous to pass along that route.”

Ukrainian forces are fighting to stave off an apparent effort by Russian forces to encircle the defenders of Severodonetsk, with Russian troops advancing in several directions around a pocket of Ukrainian-held territory.

Hayday said Russia had 25 battalion tactical groups in the Luhansk region — numbering 10,000 soldiers — and substantial amounts of military hardware. He said Russian commanders had committed a range of forces to the fight, including conscripts from the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, fighters from Russia loyal to Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov and private military companies, or PMCs.

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