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Ukrainian fighters and civilians take refuge in Sievierodonetsk chemical plant


The Ukrainian military in Lysychansk, which is next to Sievierodonetsk.

By Marc Santora


As Russian forces battled Wednesday to tighten the noose around the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, Ukrainian forces in Sievierodonetsk appeared to be largely confined to an industrial corner of the ruined city, with some units now in bunkers beneath a Soviet-era chemical factory.


Britain’s military intelligence agency estimated that “several hundred” civilians were also seeking shelter inside the factory, the Azot plant, in a development that was certain to draw comparisons with the steel plant in Mariupol where thousands of civilians and fighters held out for weeks.


Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk military administration, said that Russian forces were using artillery fire to pound the Sievierodonetsk plant, which before the war was Ukraine’s third largest producer of ammonia.


But the Ukrainians were still venturing out to attack Russian forces.


“The Russians are trying to storm the city from several directions,” Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Sievierodonetsk military administration, said in a video statement. “The Ukrainian military controls the industrial zone, and from time to time, measures are taken to oust the enemy from the city center.”


He said logistics for the Ukrainians had become more difficult after the last bridge into the city was destroyed, “but certain routes remain.”


The Russians called on the Ukrainians in the plant to surrender Wednesday and vowed to open a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to be evacuated to Russia. But such announcements over the past four months since the war began have rarely resulted in significant evacuations without both sides in agreement and international monitors like the Red Cross involved.


Haidai said that Russian forces were also firing on residential high-rise blocks close to the chemical giant. Although the city itself is in ruins, the persistent Ukrainian defense is complicating the broader Russian offensive in the wider Donbas region by pushing Moscow to devote resources to the fight.


“Russian forces will likely be fixed in and around Azot whilst Ukrainian fighters can survive underground,” according to the British assessment.


Russian forces are also paying for every step forward as the two sides engage in street battles.


“It is highly unlikely that Russia anticipated such robust opposition, or such slow, attritional conflict during its original planning for the invasion,” the British military agency said. The Ukrainians’ continued resistance in the city, it said, “will likely temporarily prevent Russia from re-tasking these units for missions elsewhere.”


That is critical as Ukraine keeps up its fight for the Donbas region, which is now the focus of Russia’s narrowed war ambitions and will affect the war’s broader outcome.


“It is vital to hold on there, in Donbas,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an overnight address. “The more losses the enemy suffers there, the less power they will have to continue the aggression. Therefore, the Donbas direction is key to determining who will dominate in the coming weeks.”


But without the fast delivery of more powerful Western weapons, his government has said, it is all Ukrainian troops can do to hang on while Russia continues to grind down its forces, making small gains at great cost.

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