‘Can make that a fortress Ukraine to exploit geographical edge to deny Russia advance

Ukraine can make area of the Donbas into 'fortress' says Clarke

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Security and defence analyst Michael Clarke claimed Ukraine has “good defensive lines” around the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in the west of the Donbas and can “dig in” around those areas to fight the Russians. While Russia appears to be winning the battle for Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region in the east, having surrounded the city on three sides, other areas in the Donbas remain under Ukrainian control. 

Mr Clarke said on Sky News: “The question for Ukraine now is if they come under too much pressure [in Severodonetsk], do they fall back to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. 

“These are the two cities that dominate the rest of the Donbas, which [Russian foreign minister] Sergei Lavrov says Russia has to have. 

“Slovyansk and Kramatorsk are on high ground, so the Ukrainians can retreat to high ground and they can make that into a fortress. 

“They’ve got good defensive lines there. They can dig in and are preparing to do that.” 

Russian troops have entered the outskirts of Severodonetsk, according to the regional governor, in the past 24 hours. 

Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had advanced into the city’s southeastern and northeastern fringes.

He described fierce fighting on Monday over the ruins of a city that has become the focus of Moscow’s offensive.

It is the last major population centre still held by Ukrainian forces in the eastern Luhansk province. 

After three months of war, Russian forces are pushing to achieve total control of the Donbas to salvage some victory from the offensive. 

Incessant shelling has left Ukrainian forces defending ruins in Severodonetsk, but their now-trademark refusal to withdraw has slowed the wider Russian offensive across the region. 

Mr Gaidai said the Russians “use the same tactics over and over again”. 

He said: “They shell for several hours – for three, four, five hours – in a row and then attack.” 

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“Those who attack die. Then shelling and attack follow again, and so on until they break through somewhere.”

With temperatures rising, he added there was a “terrible smell of death” on the outskirts of the city.

In a televised speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described capturing Severodonetsk as “a fundamental task for the occupiers”.

He added: “Some 90 percent of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the city’s housing stock has been completely destroyed.” 

And Ukraine’s defense ministry said Moscow was also trying to regroup to attack the strategically important town of Slovyansk, further west, where Mr Clarke claimed Ukraine had begun preparing the “fortress”. 

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