What does Russia’s capture of Severodonetsk mean for Ukraine?

The loss of the southeastern town of Severodonetsk is far more significant and symbolic to Russia than to Ukraine, military analysts have told Al Jazeera.

On Friday, Ukrainian forces were abandoning the town in the Luhansk region, after weeks of fierce fighting.

“Keeping positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there doesn’t make sense,” regional governor Serhiy Haidai said in televised remarks.

Heavy Russian bombardment has destroyed almost every defence position of the Ukrainian forces in the area, but the fall of the nearly-destroyed town is insignificant, a top military expert said.

“It’s a minor loss, there’s still Lysychansk [the neighboring town controlled by Ukraine], and Severodonetsk has largely served its purpose,” Ihor Romanenko, former deputy chief of Ukraine’s general staff of armed forces, told Al Jazeera.

The Kremlin is trumpeting the takeover of Severodonetsk because it remained one of the few Ukrainian-controlled towns in Luhansk, one of Ukraine’s smallest and poorest regions that was partially taken over by pro-Russian separatists in 2014.

“There is a geopolitical component for Russians, it’s a district centre in the unoccupied part of Luhansk. But we will live through it, we are more interested in the military aspect,” Romanenko said.

The claimed Russian victory in Luhansk was so important to Moscow that it ordered the redeployment of its troops from the occupied southern region of Kherson, and the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian forces are regaining ground, Romanenko said.

Western and Russian analysts agree with him.

“The loss of Severodonetsk is a loss for Ukraine in the sense that any terrain captured by Russian forces is a loss – but the battle of Severodonetsk will not be a decisive Russian victory,” concluded the Institute for War, a US think tank that has been closely following the war since it began exactly four months ago, on February 24.

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