Ukraine could lose another large Donbas hub, the city of Severodonetsk, where street fighting are already taking place, less than two weeks after the last Ukrainian forces surrendered in Mariupol, intending to exchange detainees with the Russian army, Deutsche Welle (DW) reports today.
The Luhansk region’s final big cities, Severodonetsk and adjacent Lisichansk, are still under Kiev’s control. Russia’s goal, according to the Ukrainian General Staff, is to take Severodonetsk. As in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces defending the area fear being surrounded.
Severodonetsk had a population of just over 100,000 people before the war. The city was founded in the Soviet era near Ukraine’s largest chemical industry, Azot. In the 1950s, the new town on the boundary of the districts of Lugansk, Donetsk, and Kharkiv was named after the river Severski Donets.
Dmitro Firtash, an oligarch and media magnate who has lived in Austria since 2014, owns the chemical firm Azot. On accusations of corruption, Firtash faces extradition to the United States. His Severodonetsk firm mostly manufactures fertilizer for export.
Due to the hostilities in Donbas, the Azot factory, like many others in the region, has frequently halted work in recent years. Other chemical factories can be found in Severodonetsk. In neighboring Lisichansk, there is also an oil refinery that originally belonged to Russian businessmen but has been idle for a long period.
Severodonetsk is also famous for being the site of the first attempt to partition Ukraine, which occurred twenty years ago. The so-called “All-Ukrainian Congress of Deputies of All Levels,” which was mostly attended by representatives of the pro-Russian “Party of the Region,” gathered in that city on November 28, 2004.
That party was founded in Donbas and ruled the region. She threatened to declare autonomy with Kharkov as its core during the pro-Western “Orange Revolution.” The autonomy was to cover eight Ukrainian districts in the east and south, as well as Crimea and Sevastopol.
Yuri Lushkov, the then-mayor of Moscow, spoke at the convention as well, having worked at the Azot factory as a young man. He was afterwards made an honorary citizen of Severodonetsk, despite the fact that the Ukrainian authorities had previously barred him from entering the country owing to separatist sentiments against Sevastopol.
Threats were stopped in 2004 by the organizers of the “All-Ukrainian Congress.” Many observers, however, interpreted the gathering as the first, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt in Ukraine to forge a formal political divide.
Ten years later, in the spring and summer of 2014, a second attempt was made. Following Russia’s takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, armed local rebels took three surrounding cities: Severodonetsk, Lisichansk, and Rubizhne, with the help of Russian Cossacks.
In May 2022, the bridge connecting Severodonetsk and Lisichansk on the opposite bank of the river was demolished.
The territory was liberated by the Ukrainian army in the second half of July 2014. Severodonetsk grew into a regional hub for military-civilian coordination. From Lugansk, a number of institutions and faculties relocated. They’ve relocated once more, this time to western Ukraine.
Because that section of Donbass is connected to other Ukrainian regions, Severodonetsk and nearby Lisichansk are strategically vital. The roadway between Lisichansk and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region is the main emphasis. They supply the Ukrainian army, and civilians were evacuated through them until recently. The road, however, is now considered too risky owing to artillery bombardment.
The Russian army would be able to approach the region’s administrative boundary by occupying Severodonetsk and Lisichansk. It might then march further west, towards Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region’s second administrative hub. According to DW, Kramatorsk is one of the remaining significant industrial centers in Donbas that is still entirely under Kiev’s control.