Russia claims capture of Lysychansk, pivotal city in eastern Ukraine
Russia’s defense minister said Russian forces took control of the last major city under Ukrainian control in Lugansk province on Sunday, bringing Moscow closer to its stated goal of seizing all of Ukraine’s Donbass region .
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Russian troops, along with members of a local separatist militia, « have established full control over the city of Lysychansk », according to a ministry statement.
The capture of Lysychansk constitutes « the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic », one of two breakaway regions of Ukraine that Russia recognizes as sovereign, the statement said.
Ukrainian fighters have spent weeks trying to defend Lysychansk and prevent it from falling to Russia, as neighboring Severodonetsk did a week ago. A presidential adviser predicted late Saturday that the city’s fate could be determined within days.
Ukrainian officials did not immediately provide an update on his status.
Earlier on Sunday, the governor of Luhansk said Russian forces were reinforcing their positions in a grueling fight to capture the last stronghold of resistance in the province.
« They take a foothold »
« The occupiers threw all their forces at Lysychansk. They attacked the city with tactics of incomprehensible cruelty, » Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app. « They take heavy losses, but stubbornly advance. They gain a foothold in the city. »
A river separates Lysychansk from Severodonetsk. Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said in an online interview on Saturday evening that Russian forces had managed to cross the river from the north for the first time, creating a « threatening » situation.
Arestovitch said they had not reached the center of the city but the course of the fighting indicated that the Battle of Lysychansk would be decided by Monday.
Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up Donbass, where Russia has focused its offensive since pulling out of northern Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv, in the spring.
Pro-Russian separatists have held parts of the two eastern provinces since 2014, and Moscow recognizes all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics. The Syrian government said on Wednesday it would also recognize the « independence and sovereignty » of the two regions.
An occupation of Lysychansk would pave the way for Russians to move west into Donetsk province, where the major Ukrainian city of Sloviansk has been the target of rocket attacks on several occasions since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Elsewhere in the war, the exiled mayor of the Russian-occupied southern city of Melitopol said on Sunday that Ukrainian rockets destroyed one of four Russian military bases in the city.
Russia says missiles were fired at Belgorod
The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine also launched missile and drone attacks on the cities of Kursk and Belgorod in western Russia, but air weapons were shot down. Roman Starovoit, regional governor of Kursk, said the town of Tetkino, on the Ukrainian border, had come under mortar fire.
Following the impact of Ukrainian missiles, the wreckage of one of them fell on a residential building in Belgorod, about 40 kilometers north of the border with Ukraine, the spokesman said of the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov.
The leader of neighboring Belarus, an ally of Russia, claimed on Saturday that Ukraine fired missiles several days ago at military targets in Belarusian territory but all were intercepted by an air defense system. President Alexander Lukashenko called the alleged strike a provocation and noted that no Belarusian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine.
There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian military.
Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a base for the Russian invasion. Last week, just hours before Lukashenko met Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles at Ukraine for the first time from Belarusian airspace.
Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to drag his army into war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko that his government was dependent on economic support from Russia.