Russian forces have captured nearly all of Sievierodonetsk
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russia has captured nearly all of an eastern Ukrainian city.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The Russian army is making a destructive advance, even if it's slow. Last week, U.S. General Mark Milley told NPR that Russia has superior firepower, but they're facing resistance.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
MARK MILLEY: They're gaining ground in very short increments, day to day - 500 meters, 1,000 meters, 2 kilometers. Then they get pushed back, and it's two steps forward, one step back.
FADEL: Now the gains are adding up, and nearly all of the Ukrainian city is under their control.
INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre is following this from Kyiv. Hey there, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: How much is left to the Ukrainians of Severodonetsk?
MYRE: Well, they really only have one part of the city. They're holding the Azot chemical plant, a big chemical plant in the city. About 500 or so civilians are also holed up with these remaining Ukrainian fighters. The Russians have been hammering this city relentlessly for weeks, slowly advancing. And now they've basically got the Ukrainians down to this plant. The region's governor says Russia is also pressing an offensive in surrounding regions. This is the center of the Donbas region and really the focus of the Russian operations.
INSKEEP: When you talk about a chemical plant as the place for the last stand, this is reminding me of the story of Mariupol, where something quite similar happened, right?
MYRE: Oh, absolutely - very similar in many ways, yes.
INSKEEP: So what would be the significance if Russia takes full control?
MYRE: Well, I think there's really a key takeaway for each side. For the Russians, it again shows that in these head-to-head battles, they have overwhelming firepower and can grind down the Ukrainian forces. So we should expect Russia to continue with this approach. Severodonetsk is on the east bank of a river. Right on the West Bank is another city, Lysychansk, that's already come under heavy shelling. So this is the most likely Russian target coming up, and it's part of this broader aim to take over all of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
INSKEEP: What does it mean for the Ukrainians that Russia is gaining but so slowly?
MYRE: Well, the Ukrainians are again showing that they play very tenacious defense. They've defended this relatively small city, which had about 100,000 residents, for almost two months against a very concentrated Russian force. Some military analysts wondered why Ukraine just doesn't retreat. But Ukraine's approach has been to defend as long and as hard as possible, make the Russians pay a very heavy price in men and weapons. Then the hope is that Russia will deplete itself while making these relatively limited gains. We're about four months into the war now, and this trend is very clear. Russia has made advances, but very slowly and at a very high cost.
INSKEEP: One other thing to ask you about - isn't the European Union getting close to offering Ukraine candidate status, getting them into the EU?
MYRE: Could happen this week. If they do get this offer at the end of the week, it will be the start of a very long process. Even in normal times, candidate countries have to jump through hoops for years before becoming EU members. Decision doesn't mean you're in. It means you've got a lot of things to do, but the signs are looking pretty good. Five separate European leaders visited Kyiv last week to stand side by side with President Zelenskyy. He's calling it a very historic week.
INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre, thanks so much.
MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.