Defence analyst Michael Clarke has detailed the “tough call” facing Ukrainian commanders in the Donbas region amid fierce fighting over the strategic city of Severodonetsk. The Ukrainian army has been resisting attempts by Russia to encircle the eastern city but Mr Clarke believes now with key bridges taken out Ukraine’s garrison faces a difficult choice over whether to pull back or risk becoming trapped.
Professor Clarke told Sky News: “The Russians look as if they’re having another go at taking Mykolaiv, they failed over a month ago and they’re moving towards the coast as if they want to move up the river to the south and actually attack Mykolaiv from the south.
“But the Ukrainians are building up their forces there as well, we think a pretty big battle is about to start the second battle of Mykolaiv.
“But it hasn’t begun yet, when it does, we will undoubtedly know about it.
“Meanwhile, Severodonetsk is now the centre of everything that’s going on in the Donbas, the Russians began to push on two or three fronts last week.
“They didn’t make very much progress, but the one that really matters to them, where they’ve really constrained the forces in Severodonetsk and yet, that’s the city that is the controlling city for Luhansk, which is the smaller of the two regions that make up the Donbas.
“There’s a ferocious artillery battle going on in Severodonetsk at the moment and the battle is defined by the river, the Seversky Donets River, which runs literally to the west of Severodonetsk.
“That’s a really important feature, and the Russians have tried to cross the river before further in the north to surround the city that was a complete failure, but they look as if they are now beginning to effectively cross the river.
“A lot of Ukrainian forces seem to have pulled back to Komyshuvakha and there are reports that the Russians are pushing them that far south.
“But equally there are other reports that Ukrainians are moving armour up from Komyshuvakha, towards Severodonetsk as if they’re trying to plug some gaps.
“But the key issue here are the bridges over the Donets river, there are four bridges, one of them has been down for a few years, but there are three others.
“There’s a northern bridge and a southern Bridge, which the Russians have got covered, and not easy for the Ukrainians to use, and then there’s the central bridge at Pavlohrad.
“That is the bridge the Russians destroyed a couple of days ago and the loss of the Pavlohrad Bridge, which is the main access route for the Ukrainians into Severodonetsk is a real problem for the Ukrainians.
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“Because they can’t get supplies in and they will have to decide now whether to try to withdraw while they can still get away or allow themselves to be surrounded with a danger that of course, it becomes another Mariupol.
‘That’s a tough call for any commander.
“Whether to stay and fight in the hope that a counterattack will release the pressure and get through to you in a few weeks’ time.
“Or whether to withdraw now without most of your equipment because the bridges are down. That’s a tough one.”