Russia is using diversionary attacks on Kharkiv to remove Ukrainian troops from Donbassy

A dozen people were injured yesterday in fresh attacks near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, as Russia targeted the country’s north and south in an effort to pull Ukrainian reinforcements from the epicenter of fighting in the Donbass.

When the governor of the Luhansk region said that Ukrainian troops may have to leave the twin cities at the center of fierce fighting – Severodnetsk and Lisichansk – to face heavy Russian attacks.

“In order to avoid the siege, our order may order that the troops retreat to new positions,” said Serhi Gaidai on national television. “All Lysychansk is within reach of their fire. It is very dangerous in the city.”

Russian successes in the past two days have warned that the two-month battle for the Twin Cities on the Seversky Donets River could soon reach its climax.

In Britain, the Defense Ministry said the Russians have moved more than 4km towards the southern edge of Lisichensk since Sunday, jeopardizing the remaining supply route to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Ukraine’s General Staff said last evening that its troops had foiled a Russian offensive on the city’s southern edge and the enemy was regrouping.

General Valery Zaluzhny, the head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, wrote in a post confirming a withdrawal that “we are forced to have a mobile defence, and to occupy more advantageous lines and positions.”

The loss of Severodnetsk and Lisichansk would be a political and strategic blow to Ukraine, leaving Russia in full control of the Luhansk region, but the war is unlikely to end.

Ukrainian generals, hoping that their full defense of the cities would have caused significant casualties to Russia and bought time for Western weapons deliveries, they hope could turn the tide of the war. The first of those weapons, the American HIMARS rocket launcher, arrived in the country yesterday.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksey Reznikov wrote on Twitter: “The summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last for some of them.”

HIMARs are out-range and more accurate than the Russian counterpart, and Ukraine hopes they will allow it to win the pair of artillery that has become a defining feature of the fighting for the Donbass.

Meanwhile, Oleksey Erestovich, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia had renewed attacks on other cities to “terrorize the population” and force Kyiv to pull back resources from the fighting in the Donbass.

Officials in Kharkiv, on Ukraine’s northern border with Russia, have said this week’s shelling was the worst since May. The sound of explosions was also coming in the city last night. Yesterday, powerful explosions were also reported in Mykolaiv in the south and in Odessa. Mykolaiv Governor Vitaly Kim said Russia has renewed efforts to capture the Kherson region and move closer to Mykolaiv.

“The enemy is deliberately trying to intimidate the civilian population,” he said, with the Russians hoping to reach the border with Mykolaiv in less than two months.

Meanwhile, two Britons and a Moroccan are preparing to appeal the death sentences awarded to pro-Russian separatists, one of their lawyers has said.

Britain’s Aiden Aslin and Sean Piner and Morocco’s Brahim Sadoun were captured while fighting for Ukraine. He was convicted of alleged “mercenary activities” by a court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), one of Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine.

They insist that they were regular soldiers serving in the Ukrainian army. The decision was internationally condemned, with British politicians calling it the result of a “show trial”.

Mr Pinner’s lawyer Yulia Serkovnikova has confirmed that she will now challenge the decision.

“My colleagues and I are currently preparing the full text of the appeal against the sentence in the interest of our defendants,” reports Tass, Russia’s state-run news agency.

“Undoubtedly, if the appeal is dismissed and the sentence is enforced, a request for clemency will be filed as it is an inherent right of the defendants under the law of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” she said.

Mr Aslin’s family spoke of their fear that time was “running out” to ensure the men’s safety.

Speaking to the BBC, the 28-year-old’s grandmother, Pamela Hall, said her grandson had told his mother that he would be executed soon.

“There are no words, just no words. Bullying a family member like this would be everyone’s worst nightmare,” she said.

“I have to believe what Aiden told us – that if DPR doesn’t get some response they’ll kill him. Obviously, I hope that’s not true.”

The Russian ambassador in London confirmed that Britain has asked Moscow to intervene. But Andrei Kaelin expressed a reluctance to cooperate, suggesting that the British solicitation was “arrogant”.

He also indicated that London should contact the DPR to talk about the matter.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]