Fighting for Severodonetsk, a major hub of Ukraine's chemical industry, has been going on since mid-March. The Armed Forces of Ukraine, which have entrenched themselves at the Azot chemical plant, are resisting. Luhansk authorities talk about repeating the Azovstal siege scenario
On Thursday, June 16, the head of the Lugansk People's Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, said that the LPR troops control almost the entire territory of the large regional center Severodonetsk, except for the Azot chemical plant. According to him, now there are from 1,000 to 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers there. What is the complexity of taking the plant and what is its role in establishing control over the Donbas— in the material of RBC.
How the battles for Severodonetsk went on
The Russian Ministry of Defense first reported on March 16 that fighting was taking place on the streets of Severodonetsk. “The troops of the Lugansk People's Republic are attacking the positions of the Ukrainian forces, a battle is being fought in the city limits in the east, northwest and northeast of Severodonetsk”, — informed the department.
The city is located on the left bank of the Seversky Donets River, its territory is 58 sq. km. km. Of these, 20 sq. km— under residential development and another 20 sq. km— under industrial facilities, the rest is occupied by forests. The population of the city before the start of the special operation was just over 100 thousand people. Severodonetsk is a major hub of the chemical industry in Ukraine, it has more than ten chemical enterprises, in particular “Severodonetsk Azot”, which is the largest chemical enterprise in the country.
Judging by the reports of the Russian military, the fighting outside the city entered an active phase in early May. In particular, on May 4 and 5, the official representative of the Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov, reported that unmanned aerial vehicles were destroyed in the Severodonetsk region. On May 6, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the Russian National Defense Control Center, reported that the Ukrainian military had deployed heavy weapons on the territory of the Azot enterprise. and as a “human shield” more than a thousand workers of the plant and local residents are kept in underground structures.
Mizintsev also said that containers with chemically hazardous substances were mined there for their immediate detonation in the event of a forced abandonment of positions by Ukrainian forces. This will lead to chemical contamination of the air, terrain and water sources, the general warned. “At the same time, a special danger is the possibility of strong poisonous substances getting into the Seversky Donets River, which is the main water artery and source of drinking water for Eastern Ukraine and the Donbass republics,” — he emphasized. In March, Group DF, the owner of Severodonetsk Azot, stated that the plant had stopped production and that the chemical plant was not dangerous for the residents of the city.
On May 9, Konashenkov reported that a MiG-29 aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force was shot down by Russian air defense systems over Severodonetsk, and on May 13— a few more drones. The next day, Mizintsev reported that the Ukrainian military had set up firing positions, placed artillery, MLRS and an ammunition depot in residential buildings of the city and a medical dispensary.
On May 20, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the groups of the Russian Armed Forces, together with units of the People's Militia of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, continue to expand control over the territories of Donbass. Almost three weeks later, Shoigu reported that during the special operation “97% of the territory was liberated”; LPR. Among the large cities that have not yet come under full control, he named Severodonetsk and Lisichansk.
Why Azot is important
In early and mid-June, Mizintsev said that units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), “having suffered critical losses during the battles for Severodonetsk,” were retreating in the direction of Lysichansk. At the same time, having left the residential areas, they entrenched themselves on the territory of “Azot”, where there are also hundreds of civilians, the general said. According to him, Kyiv asked to open a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians to Lysichansk under its control. But on June 13, the last bridge across the Seversky Donets River towards Lisichansk was blown up, and therefore it is not possible to carry out a safe evacuation in this direction, Mizintsev said. In this regard, on June 15, Russia opened a corridor to the city of Svatovo in the Lugansk People's Republic, but the evacuation did not take place.
Existing for more than 70 years under various names, the company «Severodonetsk Association Azot»— the largest chemical production not only in Ukraine, but also in Europe. Since 2011, the company has been part of the OSTCHEM group, as indicated on the official website of the company. OSTCHEM is a key business of Group DF of Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash. «Nitrogen»— the only company in the group that produces acetic acid, methanol and vinyl acetate. The chemical plant is the largest employer in the region, according to the OSTCHEM website. Before the start of the Russian special operation, 6,700 people worked there, the company supplied its products to 129 countries. The plant's products include gases, acids, nitrogen fertilizers, organic production, polymers, etc.
The territory of “Azot”, judging by the satellite images that are in the public domain, occupies almost half of the city. The plant was built in Soviet times, on its territory there are large underground workshops and bunkers built in case of technical disasters or nuclear war, which can withstand powerful air strikes, the editor-in-chief of Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine told RBC. Reserve Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky.
Why Azot? so far it has not been possible to take it
According to RIA Novosti, in addition to the Ukrainian military and civilians, there are also foreign mercenaries at the plant.
“Residential quarters and districts have been liberated, our units control this territory. But, unfortunately, the territory of the “Azot” plant, the industrial zone is not yet under the control of the LPR units, — Pasechnik said on June 16.
He added that the Luhansk units entered the territory of the plant, but so far it has not been possible to oust the Ukrainian formations from there. On June 12, the People's Council of the Luhansk People's Republic announced that they did not plan to take the plant by storm. And on June 16, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Lugansk People's Republic, Vladislav Deinego, proposed, when taking the Azot plant, use the experience of the siege of “Azovstal” in Mariupol. “I think you and I saw a good example at Azovstal, how it was done, with minimal danger and minimal losses,” — said Deinego.
How they took Azovstal
Metallurgical plant “Azovstal”, the area of which is 11 square meters. km, was the main center of resistance of the Ukrainian military in Mariupol. It was reported that under “Azovstal” deep underground labyrinths have been built, a truck can drive into the cellars, and concrete floors in some places are 3m thick.
In March and April, the armies of the LPR and DPR, with the support of the Russian military, tried several times to take the plant by storm, but then, by order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, this plan was abandoned and proceeded to the siege of the enterprise. “This is the case when we have to think — we always have to think, but in this case even more so— about saving the lives and health of our soldiers and officers. No need to climb into these catacombs, & mdash; Putin explained.
On May 20, the Azovstal plant passed under the full control of the Russian military. According to the Ministry of Defense, 2,439 fighters of the Azov regiment surrendered. (its symbolism is recognized as extremist in Russia and banned) and military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Taking by storm such an enterprise as Azot will lead to significant human losses, Murakhovsky explains. “Taking” Azot ” does not yet mean the establishment of full control over the LPR. The city of Lisichansk also remains, where there are many factories with underground structures, it will be difficult to take them, especially if there is a civilian population there, — emphasizes the expert. According to him, the capture of Severodonetsk means “only exits to the approaches to Lisichansk” and nothing else.
Severodonetsk, Lysichansk and Rubizhne (since May 12 under Russian control) form a triangle of the Ukrainian chemical industry, where more than 30 key enterprises of the industry are concentrated. The largest of them, in addition to “Nitrogen”— these are Ukrkhimenergo, Severodonetsk ORGKHIM, Chemical supplier Energokhimmash, NPP Zarya, Severodonetsk chemical and metallurgical plant, Severodonetsk plant of liquid chemical fertilizers Novofert, GPCZ Chemical plant Yuzhny, chemical the Benzol company.
It is still a long way to the complete capture of Donbass, Murakhovsky believes. “Much more dangerous than Severodonetsk or Lisichansk Avdeevka, because it is possible to carry out massive shelling of Donetsk,” — expert warns. In addition to Avdiivka, in the territory of the Donetsk region, the Russian military and the forces of the LPR and DPR still have to fight for Kramatorsk and Slavyansk.