Expert: Ukraine gives up Donetsk to some extent

The fact that President Volodymyr Zelenskyj calls on civilians to leave Donetsk can be interpreted as meaning that Ukraine is now giving up the region to some extent.

You are not willing to risk civilian lives," says war scientist Oscar Jonsson.

Oscar Jonsson, doktor i krigsvetenskap vid Försvarshögskolan.
Oscar Jonsson, PhD in War Science at the Swedish Defence University.

The Ukrainian government has decided on the mandatory evacuation of civilians in the Donetsk region. Anyone who chooses to stay may sign a formal refusal and is responsible from there for his own life.

I think you can read this evacuation as that you have given up on the territory to some extent and are not willing to risk civilian lives there anymore," says Oscar Jonsson, doctor of war science at the Swedish Defence University.

Wants to protect civilian lives

"We are not Russia," said Zelenskyi in his speech to the nation on Saturday, every life is important and Ukraine will do everything to protect civilians from "Russian terror".

According to Jonsson, there are two humanitarian aspects that can form the basis of the evacuation decision.

On the other hand, as Zelenskyj himself says, the more civilians get out of the area, the fewer the Russians can kill. It has been a clear part of the Russian strategy to level cities with people on the ground," he says and continues:

But the infrastructure, i.e. water and electricity, is also so damaged that it is not possible to live there.

According to Ukrainian estimates, between 200 000 and 220 000 civilians remain in the Donetsk region, 50 000 of which are children.

Ukrainas president Volodymyr Zelenskyj uppmanade på lördagskvällen civila i Donetsk att lämna regionen. Arkivbild.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj called on civilians in Donetsk to leave the region on Saturday evening.

Losing hold of Dontesk

The disadvantage of the evacuation is that Ukraine risks losing its grip on Donetsk, says Jonsson.

The consequence, and the balance that becomes interesting in this, is that Ukraine's grip on the region is weakened.

The fact that the civilian population in Cherson was present and opposed the occupation has been a problem for Russia. The civilian population has carried out both counter-attacks and demonstrations, says Jonsson.

If you empty the region of civilians, it is, in quotation marks, only the military forces that must be defeated in order for Russia to gain control of the region.

Focus on Cherson

Russia's main military goal right now is to take control of the rest of the Donetsk region, but that loss would not be critical for Ukraine," says Jonsson.

Ukraine is now focusing on trying to reclaim the occupied Cherson region in its southern parts.

Ukraine has shifted its focus to a possible counter-offensive in Cherson in the south instead.

Chersonregionen ockuperades av Ryssland snabbt efter invasionskrigets början 2022. På bilden syns två ryska soldater som vaktar ett strömkraftverk vid Dneprfloden. Bilden är tagen under en resa som organiserats av det ryska försvarsdepartementet.
The Cherson region was occupied by Russia quickly after the beginning of the invasion war in 2022. The picture shows two Russian soldiers guarding a power plant on the Dnieper River. The picture is taken during a journey organized by the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Formal refusal

Civilian Ukrainians who choose not to leave the Donetsk region will be allowed to sign a formal refusal from mandatory evacuation, reports Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Veresjchuk.

The signatory admits that he understands the risks of remaining in the region and becomes personally responsible for his life.

The procedure is unusual, says Jonsson.

I haven't seen any examples of this before," he says.

Jonsson's view is that the civilians who remain do not do so for political reasons in the first place. The reason is that you do not want to leave your home.

That people don't want to leave houses and homes I think is a bigger part of the decision than the military fighting.