By Joshua Riefman, published July 1st, 2022
"The horror! The horror!" – Heart of Darkness
EDITORAL: The sky is falling above Severodonetsk. The roar of artillery and shrieks of mortar shells dominate what was a quiet city of about a hundred thousand. For over a month and a half, the besieged city was the epicenter of the war. Now, the city lies once more silent, sundered and silent under Russian occupation.
In February, Russian forces assaulted Ukraine from all sides, expecting to decapitate the government and shatter any organized resistance. Instead, Russian forces have been routed—their soldiers’ morale evaporating faster than water and their tanks being shredded like paper—on all fronts, all except one: the Donbass. Thus, Vladimir Putin has concentrated his invasion force in the front that hasn’t fractured, seeking to seize even pyrrhic victory from the jaws of defeat that they tasted in Kyiv and Kharkiv. Sitting on the east bank of the Donets river which flows through the Donbass, Severodonetsk is symbolic for Russia as it is one of the last cities still outside of their control in Luhansk.
Nonetheless, gone are the days of seemingly imminent doom where the threat of twenty thousand Soviet tanks cutting through cities like butter hung above continental Europe. The same tanks that were expected to be capable of defeating NATO in 1980 are crumbling in the grasslands of Ukraine in 2022. Yet, the dilapidated and corrupted Russian Army is nothing but the corpse of the extinct and indomitable Soviet Army. The Soviet Union was a superpower, but the Kremlin has forgotten that heavy is the head that wears the crown, the legacy that Russia is—vainfully—trying to carry on, weight that threatens to bring down the nation and many others with it.
In late June, Ukraine announced that they were retreating from the city which had been so bombarded by artillery that their troops struggled to find any defensive positions at all. Prior to the Battle of Severodonetsk, Russia attempted multiple fruitless encirclements of Ukrainian defenders, but Ukrainian tenacity proved too much in each instance. Russia cannot win with tactics, or strategy. So, they’re determined to win with firepower, scorching and flattening the cities that they could never conquer otherwise.