Zelensky: 'Fierce Battle' in Severodonetsk Could Determine 'Fate of Donbas'

Volodymyr Zelensky Severodonetsk Battle Russia-Ukraine War Donbas
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the battle for Severodonetsk could determine "the fate of the Donbas" on Wednesday. Zelensky is pictured during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 22, 2022. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has predicted that a "fierce" battle with Russian forces in Severodonetsk could determine the overall fate of Ukraine's Donbas region.

Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Wednesday that it was "impossible to say the Russians completely control" Severodonetsk, while conceding that Ukrainian control was limited to "only the outskirts of the city," according to the BBC. During an evening address, Zelensky warned that the outcome of the fight to take back the city could play a key role in Ukraine maintaining control of the larger region.

"We are defending our positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy," Zelensky said, according to Reuters. "This is a very fierce battle, very difficult, perhaps one of the hardest of this war ... (In) many respects, the fate of the Donbas is being decided there."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has prioritized the Russian military taking control of both Luhansk and Donetsk—the two oblasts that make up the Donbas region. Pro-Russia separatists first began battling for control of the region in 2014, while Putin officially recognized the independence of the so-called "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk just before launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

On Monday, Zelensky said Russian forces could be poised to fully capture Severodonetsk, which is in Luhansk, while noting that Ukrainian military "heroes are not giving up positions" in the city. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said one day later that Russian forces controlled 97 percent of Luhansk.

Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the general staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that Russian "occupiers" were firing on "civilian infrastructure" in Severodonetsk and nearby settlements.

"In the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, the occupiers continue to carry out measures of the administrative and police regime, conduct searches of civilians, loot and destroy local infrastructure," Shtupun added. "Ukrainian defenders inflict losses on the Russian occupiers in all areas where active hostilities continue, and are steadfast in their defense."

Ukraine's Ministry of Defence has reportedly estimated that Russian troops have 10 times the equipment of the Ukrainian military in parts of Severodonetsk. Ukrainian officials have called for the U.S. and other Western allies to accelerate shipments of military equipment and arms to aid in the effort to recapture areas under Russian control.

Amid signs that the war could be shifting in Russia's favor, the Ukrainian military is attempting to defend embattled areas that remain under its control, rather than retreating and regrouping for later offensives.

"If you go to the better positions, it will be very costly for you to return, in terms of the number of killed people, the number of losses," Zelensky said earlier in the week when asked about the possibility of withdrawing from Severodonetsk, according to Ukrainian Pravda. "If we decide to attack later, we will lose much more."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian government and the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C., for comment.