Russia is reportedly tapping weak troop reserves, separatist conscripts to …

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Conscripts in eastern Ukraine in 2007 Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images

“Russia is using its overmatch in force ratio and artillery to gradually seize territory in and around Sievierodonetsk,” one of Ukraine’s last strongholds in eastern Luhansk oblast, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update Sunday. Russia’s ceaseless shelling and ground assaults are taking a heavy toll on Ukrainian forces, and Sievierodonetsk, its twin city Lysychansk, and the entire Luhansk region could fall within a few weeks, a senior Pentagon official said Sunday.

Russia “will throw all their reserves in order to capture” Sievierodonetsk and cut off Ukrainian defenders, Ukrainian regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram. But Ukrainian forces are still holding their ground in parts of the city, and Russia and its allies are taking heavy casualties, too, as they have been throughout its invasion.

As Russia struggles to replenish its depleted combat forces, “it has likely started preparing to deploy the third battalion from some combat formations,” Britain’s Defense Ministry assessed. “Most brigades normally only commit a maximum of two of their three battalions to operations at any one time. The third battalions within brigades are often not fully staffed — Russia will likely have to rely on new recruits or mobilized reservists to deploy these units to Ukraine.”

Russia hasn’t mobilized its own fighting-age men, mostly “because it has not officially declared itself at war” with Ukraine but also because sending Russian conscripts to die in the Donbas would be unpopular at home, the Financial Times reports. “But conscription has been in force in Ukraine’s pro-Russia breakaway enclaves,” and “in recent weeks, the separatist authorities have reportedly intensified the call-up, with residents saying men with no military experience are regularly plucked from the streets and immediately sent to the front.”

A mother in Donetsk told the Financial Times about her late son being grabbed off the street in April. “They drove him to the conscription office, changed his clothes, changed his shoes, and drove him to the base and then to the fighting,” she said. “I think he probably didn’t kill anyone, in the end,” she added. “He didn’t get the time.”

Russia hasn’t released any casualty figures since late March, but Britain’s Defense Ministry estimates that up to 20,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine. A court in Russia ruled last week that publishing any information about military losses, including names and personal details of slain soldiers, violates Russian law, FT reports.

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