Ukraine conflict: Russia closer to capturing Donbas region as Ukrainian forces holding out in Severodonetsk

Ukrainian defences are "holding" in the flashpoint eastern city of Severodonetsk despite attacks in three directions from Russian – however Russia have drawn closer to capturing Ukraine’s Donbas region

Russia has drawn closer to its goal of fully capturing Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland as the Kremlin claimed it has taken control of 97% of one of the two provinces that make up the Donbas region.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s forces hold nearly all of Luhansk province.

It also appears that Russia now occupies roughly half of Donetsk province, according to Ukrainian officials and military analysts.

After abandoning its attempt to storm Kyiv two months ago, Russian leaders declared that taking the entire Donbas is now its main objective.

According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) it is unlikely either side have managed to take much territory in the last day of the conflict – however, Ukraine's military have claimed it's successfully "holding back" the Russian assault in Severodonetsk, one of the final pockets of the eastern Luhansk region yet to fall to the occupying force, despite a number of attacks in the area.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies shows significant damage in the city.

11 Russian attacks have been repelled over the last 24 hours, and three tanks have been destroyed according to the Ukrainian military.

Smoke and dirt rise from shelling in the city of Severodonetsk during fight between Ukrainian and Russian troops in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 7, 2022. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS via Getty Images)

The update from the MoD said: “Russia continues to attempt assaults against the Sieverodonetsk pocket from three directions although Ukrainian defences are holding. It is unlikely that either side has gained significant ground in the last 24 hours.

“While Russia is concentrating its offensive on the central Donbas sector, it has remained on the defensive on its flanks.

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“Ukrainian forces have recently achieved some success by counter-attacking in the south-western Kherson region, including regaining a foothold on the eastern bank of the Ingulets River.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows destroyed buildings in Rubizhne, Ukraine near Severodonetsk, on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

"With the frontage of the occupied zone stretching for over 500km, both Russia and Ukraine face similar challenges in maintaining a defensive line while freeing up capable combat units for offensive operations.

"In the occupied Kherson region, Russia is forcibly aligning its administration with that of the Russian Federation by introducing the Russian rouble as legal tender and employing Russian teachers to introduce the Russian curriculum and language to schools.

“Russia will highly likely claim its occupation of Kherson as evidence of delivering improved governance and living standards to the Ukrainian people."

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces hold 20% of the country.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor of the Washington-based Centre for a New American Security said: “You’re not going to get to the negotiating table until neither side feels they have an advantage that they could push.”

The Russians “think they will be able to take the whole of the Donbas and then might use that as the opportunity to call for negotiations,” Ms Kendall-Taylor said at an online seminar organised by Columbia and New York universities.

More than $4bn-worth of military hardware has been given to Ukraine and much of it now is in the country. The US is by far the biggest contributor with most equipment being sent to Donbas.