Sievierodonetsk, which has been at the center of fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, is not yet surrounded by Russian troops, even though they control 80% of the city and have destroyed all three exit bridges, an official said Tuesday.

“There is still an opportunity for the evacuation of the wounded, communication with the Ukrainian army and residents,” Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press by phone. The president acknowledged that the Ukrainian forces have been expelled to the outskirts of the industrial city due to “the method of scorched earth and the heavy artillery that the Russians are using.” In the city, which before the war had a population of 100,000, there are still about 12,000 people left. More than 500 civilians are taking refuge in the Azot chemical plant, which is being shelled incessantly by Moscow troops, Haidai said.

In total, 70 civilians have been evacuated from Luhansk in the last 24 hours, the governor said. Two people were killed and another was injured in the region, according to Ukrainian authorities. Ukraine also noted that its air defenses shot down two Russian cruise missiles that were targeting the Odessa region. Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the region’s military administration, thanked the national air defense forces for shooting down “two enemy (cruise missiles)”. This information could not be independently confirmed and it was not clear if any shells hit their target. In other Ukrainian regions night bombardments were reported, which would have left five wounded in the province of Kharkiv. Day after day, Russia pummels the eastern Donbass region, where the offensive is now centered, with constant air and artillery strikes allowing it to make slow but steady progress in taking the industrial heartland of Ukraine.

With the conflict in its fourth month, this is a high-stakes campaign that could determine the course of the entire war.

If Russia manages to prevail in the battle for Donbas, Ukraine will not only lose territory but possibly the bulk of its most capable military forces, which would open the door for Moscow to advance in its conquests and dictate its peace conditions to kyiv.

A Russian failure could set the stage for a Ukrainian counteroffensive and cause political problems for the Kremlin.

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