Ukraine has ordered the withdrawal of its troops from the embattled city of Severodonetsk in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai announced on Friday.
Severodonetsk has been the subject of fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and the Russian military alongside pro-Russian separatists from the Donbass region for weeks, and was the last major city in the Luhansk region still partially under Ukrainian control.
"It is now a situation where it makes no sense to hold out in battered positions," Haidai said. The death toll would then rise sharply. "That's why our defenders who are there have already been ordered to withdraw to new positions and conduct normal, fully-fledged military operations from there."
According to the governor, up to 90% of houses in Severodonetsk have now been destroyed.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and has been focusing attacks in the east of the neighbouring country for weeks.
The large city of Severodonetsk, located in Luhansk, was already mostly under the control of Russian troops, even if they still met resistance. Russian soldiers also advanced to the outskirts of Severodonetsk's sister city of Lysychansk on the other side of the Siverskyi Donets river on Thursday.
Donbass region under Russian control
The loss of Severodonetsk effectively means that the entire Donbass region of eastern Ukraine is now under Russian control, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's key aims in the conflict once it became clear that his invasion of Ukraine was stalling in the first weeks of the campaign.
Elsewhere, the Russian Air Force is likely to be short of personnel, according to British intelligence experts.
This was suggested by statements made by a recently captured Russian fighter pilot who claimed to be in the service of the mercenary Wagner force, a statement on the Ministry of Defence website in London said on Friday.
"The use of retired personnel, now working as Wagner contractors, to conduct close air support missions indicates that the Russian air force likely is struggling to support the invasion of Ukraine with sufficient aircrew," the notice said.
Since the Russian war on Ukraine began about four months ago, the British government has regularly published intelligence on its progress. Moscow accuses London of a targeted disinformation campaign.