Following Mariupol, Severodonetsk marks one of the rare instances of a complete victory for Moscow, though again, it has come at tremendous cost in terms of blood and treasure.
"Russian forces have fully occupied Severodonetsk, the mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city said, confirming Ukraine’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month after weeks of fighting to hold the strategic town and latest symbol of Ukrainian resistance," Al-Jazeera reported this week.
Russia invaded on February 24.
"Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country on Saturday as Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War II enters its fifth month," the report added.
Severodonetsk was once home to around 100,000 people, but today most of it has been reduced to rubble, making it unlikely to ever be rebuilt.
"The city is now under the full occupation of Russia. They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know, they have appointed some kind of commandant," Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said in a national television broadcast.
Until now, Russia's massive advantage in firepower had only yielded nominal gains in Ukraine's east, but it appears to have been the difference-maker regarding Severodonetsk, according to reports.
"The plan from Ukrainian officials was reportedly never to fend off the Russian advance, but rather fight a war of attrition leaving Vladimir Putin's forces vulnerable to a counter-offensive," Sky News noted. "Having withdrawn from Severodonestk, Ukrainian forces will be looking to mount another defense at the nearby city of Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets river."
The latest victory for Russia, if you can call it that, comes after the military's high command removed several general officers following weeks of little to no progress on the ground. They include the commander of Airborne Forces General-Colonel Andrei Serdyukov; and commander Southern Group of Forces General of the Army Alexandr Dvornikov, according to British intelligence, Sky News added.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told state media that Ukrainian attempts to turn the city’s Azot chemical plant into a resistance point was effectively thwarted.
“As a result of successful offensive operations, units of the people’s militia of the LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic], with the support of Russian troops … completely liberated the cities of Severodonetsk and Borivske,” he said.
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, meanwhile, described the fall of the city in tactical terms, allowing the country's forces to fall back and regroup to higher ground in neighboring Lysychansk.
“The activities happening in the area of Severodonetsk are a tactical regrouping of our troops. This is a withdrawal to advantageous positions to obtain a tactical advantage,” said Kyrylo Budanov, head of Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.
And again, it's not like Russia has really won anything in exchange for all of the ordnance and lives expended, except dirt.
“Russia is using the tactic … it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” Budanov said.
“Given the conditions, holding the defense in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defense operations," he added.
That said, Russia's next move, most likely, will be an advance on Lysychansk, Al Jazeera reported, along the Siverskyi Donets river. The Ukrainian command has said that the high price Russia had to pay for Severodonetsk will leave its forces vulnerable to a counterattack in the coming weeks, especially as Ukraine receives more lethal equipment and training supplied by the West.
In other words, this war isn't going to be over anytime soon.