According to a regional governor, Ukrainian forces may have to withdraw from the fiercely contested city of Sieverodonetsk in eastern Ukraine. The strategically important city is being “bombed around the clock,” said the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gajday, on Wednesday on the “1 1” station.

“It is possible that we will have to retreat” to better fortified positions, Gajdaj said. He expects a massive Russian offensive.

The city is partly controlled by Russian troops. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Russian armed forces had full control of the city’s residential areas. Gajdaj denied this on Tuesday, but described the city’s defense as a “mission impossible”.

Gaiday said the enemy had mobilized all their forces, all their reserves, to cut off the main road from Lysychansk to Bakhmut, thereby encircling both major cities. “They are bombing Lysychansk very hard,” the governor said of the neighboring city, which is separated from Sievarodonetsk by a river. Taking the two cities would allow Russia to advance towards the major city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region. Moscow would thus come a decisive step closer to its goal of completely conquering the Donbass.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated on Tuesday evening that the situation on the front has not changed significantly in the past 24 hours and that “the absolutely heroic defense of Donbass continues”. He said more than 31,000 Russian soldiers had been killed since the war began in late February. This is almost 300 deaths a day. “However, the day will come when even for Russia the number of casualties will become unacceptable,” he predicted. An independent confirmation of the dead on both sides is not possible.

According to the operator, hundreds of people have sought refuge in a chemical plant in Sievjerodonetsk. About 800 people are currently staying there, according to the company website on Tuesday. Among those seeking protection are 200 factory workers and 600 residents of the city.

The workers stayed at the factory to secure the remaining portion of the high-explosive chemicals, a lawyer for businessman Dmytro Firtash, whose group operates the plant, said on the website. The information cannot be independently verified.

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Firtash is one of the richest people in Ukraine and was considered a close ally of former pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in 2014 after a pro-European revolution. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj imposed sanctions on the entrepreneur a year ago. He was accused of selling titanium products to Russian military companies.