Barely two weeks after the last Ukrainian soldier surrendered in Mariupol in the hope of exchanging prisoners with the Russian army, Ukraine could lose the second largest center in the Donbass, the city of Sirodonetsk. According to reports, street fighting is already taking place and Russian soldiers are said to have advanced into the city center.
Sieverodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are the last major cities of the Luhansk region still under Kyiv’s control. According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia is currently focused on capturing Severodonetsk. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forces defending the region risk being encircled as in Mariupol.
Ukrainian Chemical Industry Center
Before the war, the population of Severodonetsk was just over 100,000. The city arose in Soviet times from a village near the chemical plant “Azot”, the largest in Ukraine. The new city on the borders of the Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv regions got its name from the Severskyi Donets River in the 50s of the last century.
The entrance to the Sieverodonetsk plant “Azot”.
The owner of the “Asut” chemical plant is the oligarch and media mogul Dmytro Vertach, who has been living in Austria since 2014 and is threatening to extradite him to the United States on suspicion of corruption. His company in Sievjerodonetsk mainly produces fertilizers, most of which are exported.
In recent years, like many other factories in the region, the plant has had to deal with production interruptions due to the conflict in the Donbass. In addition to “Azot”, there are other chemical companies in Sieverodonetsk. In the neighboring city of Lysychansk there is an oil refinery that was owned by Russian businessmen, but which has long since ceased to function.
separatism in Donbass
It is also known that Severodonetsk made the first attempt to divide Ukraine 20 years ago. On November 28, 2004, the so-called “Ukrainian Parliament of all levels” met in the city, in which mainly representatives of the pro-Russian “Party of Regions” participated.
The party originated in the Donbass and took control of the region. Against the background of the pro-Western “Orange Revolution” in the capital, Kyiv, it threatened to declare autonomy with Kharkiv as its center. Autonomy was to include the eight eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, as well as Crimea and Sevastopol.
The speaker at the conference was the then mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, who once worked at the “Azot” plant when he was young. Even Luzhkov later became an honorary citizen of Severodonetsk, although the Ukrainian authorities had already banned him from entering the country due to his separatist statements in Sevastopol.
In 2004, the initiators of the “All-Ukrainian Congress” were satisfied with public threats. But to many observers, the meeting is seen as the first, if unsuccessful, attempt to forge a formal political split in Ukraine.
The second attempt came ten years later, in the spring and summer of 2014. After Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimea, armed local separatists, along with Cossacks who came from Russia, occupied the three neighboring cities: Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk Rubyshyn.
Broken bridge between Severodonetsk and Lysechansk in May 2022
The Ukrainian army liberated the region in the second half of July 2014. As a result, Severodonetsk became the center of military and civil administration in the region. Various institutions and universities from Luhansk moved there. Now they have moved again, this time to western Ukraine.
The strategic importance of Sieverodonetsk
Sieverodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are of strategic importance because this part of Donbass connects with other regions of Ukraine. The main focus is on the highway connecting Lysychansk with Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. They supply the Ukrainian military and, until recently, evacuees. But due to the bombing, this road is now very dangerous.
The capture of Sieverodonetsk and Lysychansk would allow the Russian army to reach the administrative borders of the region. From there, the Russian army could advance west towards Kramatorsk, another administrative center in the Donetsk region. Kramatorsk is one of the last large industrial cities of Donbass that is still completely under the control of Kyiv.
Quote from Russian: Markyan Ostapchuk