Ukraine, Russia Prepare for Battle of Sloviansk as War Enters Pivotal Stage

Russian forces are closing in on Sloviansk, a frontline city in the Donetsk region, as Vladimir Putin's war enters a pivotal stage, the U.K.'s Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

In a daily intelligence update, the ministry said Russia's eastern and western groups are likely now approximately 10 miles north from Sloviansk, a strategic and tactically important city in the Donbas region.

"With the town also under threat from the Central and Southern Groups of Forces, there is a realistic possibility that the battle for Sloviansk will be the next key contest in the struggle for the Donbas," Wednesday's update said.

A Ukrainian policeman in Sloviansk
A Ukrainian policeman patrols in front of destroyed shops on a local market after a rocket attack in Sloviansk, on July 3, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sloviansk is likely the next major conflict area in the war, Western intelligence suggests. GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine's military is braced for an assault on Donetsk, with Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko having called for the evacuation of all 350,000 of the region's remaining residents.

Putin's forces have ramped up offensives to seize the Donbas in recent days. But it remains unclear if Russia's forces will attempt to immediately capture Sloviansk.

On Monday, Putin asked Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu to allow all troops involved in the offensive in Luhansk to rest to "build up strength."

"The units that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victories in the Luhansk direction, of course, should rest, increase their combat capabilities," Putin said.

Newsweek has contacted Russian authorities for comment.

On Sunday, Moscow claimed a major victory by capturing the last Ukraine-held area of the Luhansk region—which makes up the Donbas with Donetsk.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Reuters on Monday that he expected Sloviansk, as well as Bakhmut, would come under attack.

A day later, an attack on a marketplace in Sloviansk left at least two people dead and others wounded, while 40 houses had been shelled, local officials said.

A Ukrainian soldier near Sloviansk
A Ukrainian soldier sits on a Armoured personnel carrier (APC) driving on a road near Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, on April 26, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

"This week there hasn't been a day without shelling," Donetsk Governor Kyrylenko said Tuesday evening. He said Sloviansk is now within range of Russian multiple-rocket launchers, AFP reported.

"The enemy is shelling chaotically, the attacks are aimed at destroying the local population," Kyrylenko said. "So, once again, the main advice is to evacuate."

Gaidai wrote on his Telegram channel on Wednesday that Russian regular army and reserve forces had been sent to the edge of the Luhansk region in an apparent effort to cross the Siverskiy Donets River.

"We are holding back the enemy on the border of Luhansk region and Donetsk region," Gaidai said.

Lyakh told Reuters that on Tuesday, 144 people, including 20 children, had been evacuated from Sloviansk.

"It's important to evacuate as many people as possible," Lyakh said.