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Russian forces now control Severodonetsk, but Zelensky vows Ukraine will re-take lost cities

Russian forces seized full control of the Eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk on Saturday, confirming Kyiv's biggest battlefield setback for more than a month, after weeks of some of the war's bloodiest fighting.

Ongoing war expected to be discussed as G7 leaders meeting for summit on Sunday

Ukraine concedes the city of Severodonetsk to Russia

2 months ago
Duration 2:21
Ukrainian soldiers concede the city of Severodonetsk to Russia, and a former prisoner of war talks about his experience being captured during the siege of Mariupol.

Russian forces seized full control of the Eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk on Saturday, confirming Kyiv's biggest battlefield setback for more than a month, after weeks of some of the war's bloodiest fighting.

The fall of Severodonetsk — once home to more than 100,000 people, now a wasteland — was Russia's biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield in Eastern Ukraine after weeks in which Moscow's huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.

Russia will now be hoping to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of the small city will leave Russia's forces vulnerable to a counter-attack.

The Independence Monument overlooking Kyiv's Maidan Square is seen on Saturday, four months to the day that Russian forces cross Ukraine's borders and began a wide-ranging invasion. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in a video address that Ukraine would win back the cities it lost, including Severodonetsk. But acknowledging the war's emotional toll, he said "we don't have a sense of how long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon."

Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television the city was "now under the full occupation of Russia."

"They are trying to establish their own order; as far as I know, they have appointed some kind of commandant."

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine's military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out "a tactical regrouping" by pulling its forces out of Severodonetsk.

"Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth," Budanov said. "Given the conditions, holding the defence in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defence operations."

WATCH | What happened this week in Russia's invasion of Ukraine: 

What happened in Week 18 of Russia’s attack on Ukraine

2 months ago
Duration 2:47
Ukrainian forces appear set to retreat from Severodonetsk, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warns once again that Russia's war in Ukraine could drag on for ‘years.’ Here’s a recap of the war in Ukraine from June 18 to June 24.

Russia's defence ministry said "as a result of successful offensive operations" Russian forces had established full control over Severodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.

Russia's Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters as saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk  and fighting was taking place in urban areas there.

As Europe's biggest land conflict since the Second World War entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.

At least three people were killed and others may have been buried in rubble in the town of Sarny, some 300 kilometres west of Kyiv, after rockets hit a carwash and a car repair facility, the head of the local regional military administration said.

G7 leaders are expected to demonstrate long-term support for Ukraine and discuss how to tighten the screws on Russia at a three-day summit in Germany starting on Sunday. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the leaders will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia .

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will take part, said he feared Ukraine could face pressure to agree to a peace deal, and the consequences of Putin getting his way in Ukraine would be dangerous to international security.

Lysychansk 'was a horror,' evacuee says

In the Ukrainian-held Donbas town of Pokrovsk, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.

"Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more," she said. "I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house."

A resident of Donetsk, Ukraine, carries a cat in a pet carrier and various belongings, while leaving a damaged house on Saturday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on Feb. 24, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also stoked an energy and food crisis which is shaking the global economy.

Since Russia's forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, it has shifted focus to the Donbas, an eastern region made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Severodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk.

A view of a damaged building in Donetsk, Ukraine, as seen on Saturday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Russians crossed the river in force in recent days and have been advancing towards Lysychansk, threatening to encircle Ukrainians in the area.

The capture of Severodonetsk is likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at "lightning warfare" to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.

Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has backed uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. It demands Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.

Ukrainian officials had never held out much hope of holding Severodonetsk indefinitely, but have hoped to exact a high enough price to exhaust the Russian army.

Missile strikes across the country

Ukraine's top general, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, wrote on the Telegram app on Saturday that U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

Asked about a potential counter-attack in the south, Budanov said Ukraine should begin to see results "from August."

Russian missiles also struck elsewhere overnight. "48 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. "Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic."

Ukrainian soldiers are seen in Kostantynivka, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on Saturday — four months after the start of Russia's wide-ranging invasion of its neighbour. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine said six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at a base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target, but two were destroyed.

The war has had a huge impact on the global economy and European security arrangements, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.

WATCH l Ukraine ambassador talks to CBC News about military aid, 'historical' EU nod: 

Delays in delivering military aid 'costs the lives of our soldiers': Ukrainian Ambassador

2 months ago
Duration 6:49
Ukraine's Ambassador to Canada Yulia Kovaliv says Ukraine's request for Canadian light armoured vehicles is "under consideration" but stressed that time is of the essence. "Each day of delay unfortunately costs the lives of our soldiers"

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