Why eastern Sloviansk is key to Russian forces

(CNN) – The city of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk region, is one of the few major areas of Donbass that are off-limits to Russians.

Hundreds of people are fleeing the city as the Ukrainian military says Russian units are being reinforced as they approach Sloviansk in preparation for the resumption of the offensive.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said, on Friday, that the Russians are amassing a force of up to 20 tactical battalions in the region. The military said that the Russians tried to launch an attack on two towns north and northwest of Slovinsk – Parvenkov and Svyatohersk – but were unsuccessful. It was not clear whether the Russians had captured more territory east of Sloviansk after capturing the town of Liman late last month. The Ukrainian side said that Russian forces used artillery fire in two areas closer to Sloviansk, Shurov and Prosivka.

On Saturday, the head of the city’s military administration, Vadim Lyach, said the number of evacuees nearly doubled this week in Sloviansk. There are currently about 22,000 people left in Slovensk, a fifth of the antebellum population of about 110,000, according to Leach.

Since Russia has refocused its “special military operation” in the region, the capture of the city, along with the nearby town of Kramatorsk, has been a major goal. Both are major transmission axles with heavy industry and significant manufacturing, even if many of them have fallen into disrepair.

Reaching and capturing them would be an important achievement for the Russian forces, bringing them closer to the borders of the Donetsk region and securing much of the north. The two cities are about 25 kilometers from the western border of Donetsk.

Both Sloviansk and Kramatorsk also have a symbolic meaning. For several months in 2014, they were in the hands of pro-Russian separatists who formed their own municipal administration. The Ukrainian army eventually expelled them.

Fighting in Ukraine, according to military, officials

As Russia intensifies its offensive on eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces are making little progress, particularly in the Donetsk region.

“The rate of advance of enemy units during hostilities in the Donetsk direction is low due to physical exhaustion of personnel, low morale and psychological state,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Saturday.

Russian air activity “remains elevated” over eastern Ukraine and has contributed to Russia’s “recent tactical successes” but “has not had a significant impact on the conflict,” the latest intelligence assessment from Britain’s Ministry of Defense.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that a fifth of the country’s territory is under Russian control, with Donbass “almost completely destroyed.”

This is the state of the battles across the country, according to the Ukrainian army:

the East: And in the Bakhmut region of the Donetsk region, the Russian troops were forced to withdraw after “being damaged by fire from Ukrainian units”.

The Ukrainian military said that in the Slovensk region of Donetsk Russia had failed in “offensive operations” in two regions and “incurred losses”. Russia also carried out “artillery bombardments” in three other regions.

The Ukrainian military said Russian units are being reinforced as they approach Sloviansk as they prepare for new attacks on the city. Hundreds of people flee Slovenia every day, Liach said, and the number of evictions doubled this week.

The military said Ukraine had repelled a total of nine attacks by the Russians in the Donbass region in the past 24 hours.

Following a Russian air strike on a factory in Bakhmut, Donbass region, Ukraine on Friday, May 27th. (Andoni Lubaki/CIPA USA/Reuters)

The statement said Russia “has not stopped offensive operations” and “continues to launch missile attacks and air strikes on military and civilian infrastructure.”

Regional officials said four people were killed and another wounded in the Lugansk region, after Russian strikes in six regions. In the battle for the city of Severodonetsk, street fighting continues and “offensive operations took place in the industrial zone” of the city, which is still in the hands of Ukrainian troops.

Ukraine now controls about half of Severodonetsk after retaking some territory from the Russians, according to Serhiy Heidi, head of the Luhansk region’s military administration.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Friday it expected Russia to take control of the entire Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine within the next two weeks, based on its latest intelligence assessment.

Northeast of the country: In Sumy, the Russians launched six air-to-ground missiles on Saturday morning, and others were launched from a Russian aircraft during the night, according to Dmitro Chivitsky, head of the Sumy Regional Military Administration. Homes were damaged, but no casualties were reported in the attacks.

In the Kharkiv region, one person was killed and eight injured after the shelling of Balaklia, including an 11-year-old girl, according to local officials. The military statement added that “heavy fire continues” against the positions of the Ukrainian forces.

This is what the destruction looks like in Sumy, Ukraine after the Russian attacks 0:48

the South: Serhiy Prachuk, a spokesman for the military administration in Odessa, said that two people were injured in Odessa after a missile deployed by a Russian plane hit an agricultural warehouse on Saturday morning.

To the east, the town of Mykolaiv came under “heavy artillery fire and multiple rocket launchers” on Saturday morning. Provincial officials said no one was hurt.

Regional officials said the situation in Kherson region remained “consistently difficult”. Russian forces continued to bombard the Novorontsovka region. The statement said telephone and internet communications remain limited for the “vast majority” of the region’s population, and “urgent humanitarian aid” is needed in the Kakhovka and Preslav regions along the Dnipro River.

This was the effect of a Russian missile on a hotel in Odessa 1:59

CNN’s Olga Voitovich, Julia Presnyakova, Taras Zadorozhny, and Bex Wright contributed to this report.

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