Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said retaking Severodonetsk would be expensive in terms of equipment and troops if the eastern Ukrainian city fell to Russian forces.
Zelensky made the remarks to reporters on Monday as Russian forces appear poised to capture the city amid heavy fighting, Ukrainian Pravda reports. The admission comes as Russian forces advanced into Ukraine’s Lugansk region after being pushed back in an earlier phase of the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking control of Luhansk, as well as the southwestern Donetsk region, where Kremlin-backed separatists have declared breakaway republics along Ukraine’s eastern border. Additionally, there are indications that redeployed Russian troops are advancing in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook post on Monday that Ukrainian troops maintain control of Severodonetsk.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk military administration, said on Telegram on Monday that “the situation in Severodonetsk has deteriorated somewhat.” He said Ukrainian forces are occupying positions in his industrial zone after taking over half of the city.
When asked if Ukrainian forces should withdraw from Severodonetsk, Zelensky told reporters that a counterattack to retake the city would require five times as much equipment and troops.
“If you go to the best positions, it will cost you a lot to come back, in terms of the number of people killed, the number of casualties,” Zelensky said, according to Ukraine’s Pravda. “If we decide to attack later, we will lose a lot more.”
Zelensky said Ukrainian forces held Severodonetsk and both approaches carried their own risks. Decisions will be made based on future developments, he said.
Russian forces are “now achieving tactical success” in the Donbass and could take full control of Luhansk later this month, the UK Ministry of Defense concluded in an assessment of the conflict last week.
Oleksiy Danilov, Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said in an earlier interview with FinancialTimes that the country is in a “very difficult” fight against Russia in the Donbass region, suggesting that strategically ceding territory could help win the war.
“The temporary loss of territories is not a tragedy,” he said, according to FinancialTimes. “The tragedy will be the loss of the country.”
Haidai said in his Telegram post that shelling in Severodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk increased tenfold. He said other towns in the Lugansk region face a similar situation to Mariupol, a southern port city that has seen intense fighting and which Russia now claims is under its control.
“Now the Russians are leveling Severodonetsk and Lysychansk,” Haidai said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Russia was achieving its goal of protecting residents of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
“Measures have been taken to ensure their protection,” he said, according to Reuters.
Newsweek contacted the Russian government for comment.