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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Serhiy Haidai: Ukraine's Man In Donbas Is Forced To Explain Russian Gains

Ukrainian newspaper Livy Bereg asked Volodymyr Zelensky's chief adviser on the Donbas, Serhiy Haidai, why he did not hold Ukraine's position in the Luhansk region.

Screenshot of a head of the Luhansk Military Administration Sehiy Haidai speaking on camera

Head of the Luhansk Military Administration Serhiy Haidai

Serhiy Haidai via Telegram
Sonia Koshkina

Volodymyr Zelensky's chief adviser on the Donbas, the head of the Luhansk Military Administration, is a 46-year-old businessman and politician named Serhiy Haidai, with a salt-and-pepper beard and stern disposition. He is despised by Russians, yet also increasingly criticized by Ukrainians.

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Ukraine's military has been losing ground in the Luhansk oblast since the beginning of the war, suffering heavy losses among its personnel and civilians, and has been forced to abandon two major cities, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

Russia continues to commit virtually all of its forces into the Donbas, taking much of Luhansk not by direct combat or occupation, but by simply burning territory to the ground with artillery, with Russian tanks then rolling in to "liberate" the dead cities.

However, among Ukrainians, Haidai is still considered almost a traitor, because he could not hold his position in the region. Although it was Zelensky who personally gave the command to save the personnel of the battalions in the oblast and to get the people out.

The Ukrainian publication Livy Bereg asked Serhiy Haidai to explain the situation in the Luhansk Region, and what happens next.

At the end of May, you said: “I would really like to believe that as soon as the military trains arrive or planes bring Western weapons, we will liberate all our territories within a week.” A  month and a half has passed and we see that the Luhansk region is almost completely occupied by the enemy.

The fact is that we still do not have enough weapons to at least stop this Russian invasion. We need many more long-range Western weapons, because as we have already learned from our own experience, on the battlefield Russian soldiers are nothing in particular. But they do have a lot of artillery and, as our soldiers say, almost unlimited amounts of ammunition. They simply destroy everything in their path and then pass, as if through a desert.

Given that they stormed our positions over and over again, day after day, week after week, month after month without success, they chose one single tactic — the tactic of destroying everything in their path. They were shelling the territory with tanks, mortars, artillery, various multiple launch rocket systems, dropping air bombs, missiles from helicopters. It was a real hell. They used all the weapons they had. Some cities are 90% destroyed.

(The Russians) did not care what to shoot at: kindergartens, nursing homes, schools or block of flats, there was no difference at all. Critical infrastructure — everything related to the central gas supply, water, electricity — was destroyed to the ground.

At the same time, there are statements about the intentions of the occupiers to hold a “referendum” on joining Russia either at the end of summer or at the beginning of autumn. How can it be held if everything is destroyed? Where is the logic here?

Their logic is very simple. They enter the administrative border of the Luhansk or Donetsk region, immediately hold a pseudo-referendum, decide on the annexation of these territories into the Russian Federation, and then, when Ukraine launches a counteroffensive and liberates the territories, Putin will simply announce that Ukraine has started a war against Russia, and therefore will declare a full mobilization in order to recruit "cannon fodder" and throw them into the war zone.

How many civilians are left in the newly occupied territories of the Luhansk region?  When we spoke with you last time, you said there were at least 8,000 civilians in Severodonetsk, and 10,000 in Lysychansk. What about now? What is the humanitarian situation there?

The humanitarian situation is very difficult. When the Russian army attacked these cities, it shelled them around-the-clock for several months. Around 90% of the houses were shelled, more than 60% were critically destroyed. There was no difference whether it was a residential or theater building, schools or kindergartens, everything was simply razed to the ground. I have no idea how they will rebuild the city. This is impossible. There are still the same people who remained: approximately 8,000 in Severodonetsk and a little more than 10,000 in Lysychansk, but some will leave. I know this for sure, because many people write on messengers, find opportunities to contact.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky's chief adviser on the Donbas, Serhiy Haidai, on the situation in Luhansk.

Чарльз Гаскойн/Facebook

Why didn't they leave earlier?  There was an example of Mariupol and other cities.

It’s hard for me to say, because since February 24, I have constantly been appealing to the people (with a call to evacuate). We used all the means: volunteers, policemen, administrations (city, regional, territorial), from different sites, asked the military to contact, even sometimes asked to film those who did not want to leave. Only a small part of local residents remained. For example, in Severodonetsk there were 120,000 inhabitants, only 8,000 remained. There are elderly people who personally told me that they were “born here, and they will die here.” Well, they don't want to leave. But there are also those who were waiting for the "Russian world" (Russkiy mir), they are now clapping their hands, rejoicing, they say, "ours" have come. Thank God they are few, but still, they exist.

There is information, primarily from Western partners, that the next direction where the Russians will go will be Donetsk region. Heavy fighting is expected near Sloviansk. What do you think about this situation?

We already see that they are accumulating reserves in order to launch an offensive in the Donetsk region. There will be several directions, one indeed will be Sloviansk, the second, Bakhmut, which is already under heavy fire. Like Sloviansk. They are already dropping air bombs there, shelling it with multiple launch rocket systems, with long-range artillery. They spare no one, nothing.

You mentioned forced mobilization in the newly occupied territories, that they simply grab men on the streets to force them to enroll.

Yes. And they come up with some new tricks to lure men. For example, through the announcement that the municipal utilities are hiring men offering huge salaries. If people come to get a job, the next day the military comes for them, issues summons and sends them to the front lines.

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