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Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from the besieged eastern city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of fierce and bloody battle, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Friday.
Russian troops relentlessly shell the city, which is the administrative center of the Luhansk region, and the Ukrainians retreat to avoid encirclement.
Russia controls about 95% of Luhansk province and about 50% of neighboring Donetsk province. Both are in the disputed Donbass region.
Haidai said the defenders will continue to fight from new positions after they retire.
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The Ukrainians had fought the Russians in the streets of the city before hiding in a chemical factory.
In Mariupol, the last Ukrainian fighters before the capture of the city by Russia had hidden in a steelworks before being kidnapped and taken away as prisoners of war in May.
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Russian troops have made gains in Sievierodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk as they wear down Ukrainian resistance.
“We will have to withdraw our guys,” Haidai said. “It makes no sense to stay on destroyed positions, because the number of casualties in poorly fortified areas will increase every day.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday it had “completely blocked” four Ukrainian battalions and a unit of foreign mercenaries – around 2,000 troops – south of Lysychansk.
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Haidai said the Russians were also advancing towards Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, adding that Russian reconnaissance units had made incursions on the outskirts of the town but were driven off by its defenders.
Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special military operation” four months ago on February 24 and more recently shifted its focus to the Donbass region after its failure to capture the capital of country, Kyiv.
US and allied leaders traveled to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a show of support – leaders from France, Italy, Germany and Poland visited last week – and the United States and its allies continue to support the country with military aid.
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The United States recently sent American medium-range rocket launchers into Ukraine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.