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Ukrainian forces are closing in on Kremina, a fiercely defended city in the east of the country that could help Ukraine retake a key area.
The area is currently almost entirely occupied by Russia.
Ukraine’s campaign to retake Kremina, in the Luhansk region, began in the fall, around the time its forces regained the city of Lyman, in neighboring Donetsk Oblast, and pushed Russian forces back east towards their country’s border. The two regions that make up the area called Donbas are home to self-proclaimed Russian-backed separatist republics and were among four regions illegally annexed by Russia in September.
Over the past few months, there has been a series of battles and artillery engagements over highways and small settlements around Kreminna and further northwest, in the town of Svatove. Russian forces took both at the start of their 10-month invasion of Ukraine.
Recapturing the two cities and the third, Starobilsk, could allow Ukrainian forces to continue their advance toward the Russian border and retake more territory seized from Moscow. It would also give Ukraine control over a triangle of roads which provide access to two larger cities in the south, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which fell to Russia in the summer.
On Tuesday, Sergei Haidai, the Ukrainian regional governor of Luhansk, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app: “The Russians understand that if they lose Kremina, their entire defense line will fall.”
A day earlier, Mr Heidai said that in response to military pressure, part of the Russian command in the city had withdrawn to the town of Rubizhne, a few miles to the south-east, although it was not possible to verify the claim.
In his evening address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said of the war zones: “The occupiers are using all the resources at their disposal – and these are significant resources – to wring at least some progress.”
There was no independent confirmation of developments on the battlefield, but Vitaly Kiselov, a senior official in the Russian-backed separatist republic of Luhansk, said on Russian state television on Monday that the situation around Kremina and Svatovo remained “very tense”.
Fighting continued in parts of those regions on Tuesday. In the southern region of Kherson, a Russian artillery strike damaged a critical infrastructure facility, a kindergarten and an emergency medical aid station, but there were no reports of casualties, regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevich said. wrote on Telegram.
In recent weeks, Russian forces have built a series of protective barriers near Kremina and other parts of Ukraine’s jagged front line. They also severed pontoon bridges over the Siverskyi Donets River, which runs through northern Luhansk, the province’s military administration said on Telegram on Monday.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said this after the loss city of Kherson and suffering other territorial setbacks, Russia was massing forces in northern Luhansk for an offensive that would aim to expand its control in the region and then potentially enter Kharkiv province.
To that end, the institute said, Russia is prioritizing the mobilization of troops to defend Kremina and Svatovo over operations in other parts of Donbass. The institute cited Ukrainian military reports of increased Russian troop movements, military equipment and ammunition in the area.
However, it said Russian success in the short term appeared unlikely given the difficult terrain and the “very limited” offensive capabilities of Moscow’s forces.
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