Russian forces captured two settlements south of the key city of Lysychansk in the Donbas as they pressed ahead with an offensive meant to completely cut off the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region, a regional official said on June 23.
Russia's improved military performance in the area of Lysychansk and its twin city of Syevyerodonetsk was likely the result of recent troop reinforcement and heavy use of artillery fire, Britain's Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin early on June 23.
Luhansk military governor Serhiy Hayday said on June 23 that the villages of Loskutyvka and Rai-Oleksandryvka south of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk fell to the Russians, but he added that Ukrainian forces continue to resist in Syevyerodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka.
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Hayday said Ukrainian forces are facing massive and relentless artillery attacks in Lysychansk.
The fight for Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk is "entering a sort of fearsome climax," said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Russia seeks to capture both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up most of Ukraine's industrial heartland of Donbas.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said Ukrainian forces control less than half of the Donetsk region, adding that more than 100 cities and villages within these areas had no gas or electricity.
Kyrylenko said that the 55 percent of Donetsk that is under Russian occupation is "completely destroyed."
However, British intelligence noted in its bulletin that Russian efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take the Donetsk region west of Luhansk remain stalled.
Arestovych said in a video address that Russia launched the most intensive strikes in weeks on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, adding that they were aimed at "terrorizing the population."
Arestovych said the shelling, which caused at least 10 deaths in the Kharkiv region over two days, was mean to "distract us and force us to divert troops" from the main battlefields in the Donbas.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a group of European newspapers that the defense intelligence service believes that Russia's momentum in the war in Ukraine will slow in the next few months as its army exhausts its resources.
In comments released on June 22 by Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Johnson said President Vladimir Putin's forces were pushing forward in the eastern Donbas region, wreaking destruction but at a heavy cost in soldiers and weapons.
In the next few months, Britain’s intelligence service believes that Russia “could come to a point at which there is no longer any forward momentum because it has exhausted its resources," Johnson was quoted as saying.
"Then we must help the Ukrainians to reverse the dynamic. I will argue for this at the Group of Seven (G7) summit,” he said.
The G7 summit, bringing together the heads of state of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States, is scheduled to begin on June 26 in Germany.
"In as much as the Ukrainians are in a position to start a counteroffensive, it should be supported with equipment that they demand from us," he said.
A victory for Ukraine — or failure for Russia — would at least see Ukraine regain the status quo that was there before Russia invaded, he said.