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Ukraine pleads for more weapons to keep key city of Severodonetsk from falling to Russia

Intense battles rage in eastern Ukraine
Donbas battles “most brutal” Europe has seen, Zelenskyy says 01:47

Dnipro, Ukraine — Troops defending a crucial city in Ukraine's embattled east have lost more ground to Russian forces. Severodonetsk is the last city controlled by Ukraine's own forces in the breakaway province of Luhansk, which, along with neighboring Donetsk, makes up Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of Donbas.  

A Ukrainian official in the region has warned that Severodonetsk could face the same fate as Mariupol, the southern port city where, a month ago, Russia's invasion left thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops trapped in grim conditions, cut off from basic supplies and with no way to escape.

CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay says the desperate effort to save Severodonetsk could decide how much of Ukraine Russian President Vladimir Putin is able to claim as a war prize.

Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine - vector map
A map shows the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine's Donbas. Getty/iStockphoto

In another blow to Ukraine's chances, the last bridge to Severodonetsk, which connected it with its twin city of Lysychansk across the Siverskyi Donets River to the west, was destroyed by Russian forces. Now, for 100,000 Ukrainians stuck in Severodonetsk, there's no way to escape the surrounded city.

"You have two options," a commander of the pro-Russian separatists battling to take the city warned Ukraine's defenders. "Surrender or die."

The Ukrainian army is high on tenacity, but low on ammunition. To make sure none is wasted, they launch American surveillance drones to help their gunners get precise coordinates for attacks.

Russia Ukraine War
Ukrainian soldiers remotely operate a drone, searching for Russian troops' positions, during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, June 8, 2022. Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP

They simply can't afford to miss, according to local commander Major Oleksandr. 

"We have to get closer and take more risks, because our enemies have long-range artillery," he said.

Long-range artillery like Russia's "grad" rocket launchers. Ukrainian forces have destroyed some, using howitzers provided by the U.S. But they need more, Joe Goddard, a former British soldier now training Ukraine's National Guard forces, told CBS News.

Residents of villages once liberated by Ukraine live in fear of the return of Russian troops 02:33

"That's the sad part," he said. "I mean these guys want to go and fight, they want to take villages, they want to actually push the Russians back."

The problem for Ukraine's defenders, the former British soldier said, is "the sheer unevenness" of the battlefield created by Russia's overwhelming hardware advantage.

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, June 13, 2022, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty

"So, they are being smashed every day in the trenches with these heavy guns, and they want to do more, but they can't," Goddard told CBS News.

Ukraine's government has now asked for an additional 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones, among other heavy weapons.

Without them, the city of Severodonetsk — a crucial domino in the potential fall of the entire Donbas region — could fall any day.

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