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The Russian offensive aimed at pushing Ukraine completely out of the industrial heartland of the Donbas continues in bloody fighting. Characterizing the situation as the “18th round of a boxing match” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, said on national television that “the fight for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has entered its fearsome climax.”

“Any side that sends two battalions of artillery there wins this fight,” he added. “Let’s see who sends. Who has [those battalions]; only the military command on both sides knows.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia is attempting to completely destroy the Donbas with its massive, indiscriminate air and artillery strikes. He once again called on the West to speed up the supply of heavier and advanced weapons to Kyiv.

“We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly,” Zelensky said in a video that was released on Thursday. “There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier’s goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step,” he said.

“This is why we, again and again, emphasize the acceleration of arm deliveries to Ukraine. What is quickly needed is parity on the battlefield in order to halt this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders,” he added.

Russians Gaining Ground Slowly Around Lysychansk:

The Russian military is making slow but inexorable gains in the last remaining free areas of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. They took several small villages in the vicinity of Lysychansk, including Toshkivka, Ustynivka, Pidlisne, and Myrna Dolyna, and were advancing on Bila Hora.

Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said that Russian forces continue to press on Severodonetsk, where street fighting is taking place as the Russians are attacking the Ukrainian stronghold of the Azot chemical plant.

“It is not easy for our soldiers to keep the defense,” Haidai said.

The Russians are pushing from three sides trying to cut off a large number of Ukrainian defenders. The Ukrainian leadership wants to keep a toehold in the industrial Donbas. However, if they continue the street-by-street fight, it will take a fearsome toll on Ukraine’s troops as well as the Russians.

While they don’t wish to conduct a tactical withdrawal, it would allow their forces to fight again. It is a question that has no easy answers. The Institute for the Study of War, in its latest intelligence assessment, said that while Russian attempts to cut the road to Lysychansk, which is the main supply route for the Ukrainians, their troops hold the high ground, where they can exact a heavy toll on attacking units.

UK Intelligence: Russian Forces Suffering “Unsustainable Casualties”

The U.K. Ministry of Defense posted its latest intelligence assessment and quoted the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Russian proxy separatist group, who said that they’ve suffered 2,100 killed and 9,000 wounded in the Donbas since the war began. Those numbers are unsustainable, the UK said.

That casualty rate would equal nearly 55 percent of its total force, according to the assessment, “which highlights the extraordinary attrition rate Russian and pro-Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas.”

Russian casualties are unknown but generally considered extremely high, with some estimates of over 15,000 killed and 40,000 wounded. The Russians haven’t updated their casualty numbers since March when they claimed they’d lost 1,351 troops killed, which was considered largely underestimating their losses.

The Russians are being forced to send more and more untrained reservists into the meatgrinder of the fighting in the Donbas, as they try to stem the flow of conscripts, according to former proxy official Yevgeniy Mikhailov. The proxy separatist government is trying to entice foreign mercenaries to fight under one-year contracts. The same proxy governments don’t believe that mercenaries should be afforded protection under the Geneva Conventions and have sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan national who fought for Ukraine to death.

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 10 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.