Ukrainian forces will retreat from Severodonetsk in the face of a brutal Russian offensive that is reducing the battleground eastern city to rubble, a senior Ukrainian official said Friday.
The news came shortly after the European Union made a strong show of support for Ukraine, granting the former Soviet republic candidate status, although there is still a long path ahead to membership.
The strategically important industrial hub has been the scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians put up a fierce defence.
“They have received an order” to withdraw, he said on Telegram.
The city has been “nearly turned to rubble” by continuous bombardment, he added.
The Ukrainians had already been pushed back from much of the city, leaving them in control of only industrial areas.
– Lysychansk under fire –
AFP journalists driving out of the city Thursday twice had to jump out of cars and lie on the ground as Russian forces shelled its main supply road.
The situation for those who remain in the city is bleak.
But the 39-year-old was upbeat about the city’s defences: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (be able to) cope.
A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine earlier told AFP the resistance of Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “pointless and futile”.
In the southern Kherson region, a Moscow-appointed official was killed in an explosion, Russian news agencies reported, the latest in a string of attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Ukrainian regions under Russian control.
With Ukraine pleading for accelerated weapon deliveries, the United States announced it was sending another $450 million in fresh armaments, including Himars rocket systems, which can launch multiple missiles at extended range.
At a Brussels summit Thursday, EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine, as well as Moldova.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukraine.
European powers before the invasion had distanced themselves from US support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, and EU membership is at least years away.
Western officials have accused Russia of weaponising its key exports of gas as well as Ukraine, contributing to the global inflation and rising hunger in Ukraine.
Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy, after Russia slashed supplies.