Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russia on Sunday declared its control of the last Ukrainian stronghold in an eastern province, which is key to achieving a key objective in Moscow’s grinding war..
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army reported that its forces had withdrawn from Lysechansk in Luhansk Province. President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the withdrawal but said the fight for the city was still raging in its outskirts.
If confirmed, Russia’s full capture of Luhansk would provide its forces with a stronger base from which to press their advance into the Donbass, an area of mines and factories that President Vladimir Putin is bent on capturing in a campaign that could determine the course of the war. full war.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that Russian forces, together with a local separatist militia, “have taken full control of the city of Lyschansk” and are now in control of Luhansk, according to a statement released by the ministry on Sunday.
As is customary in such descriptions, the Russian manifesto described the victories as “the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” Separatists in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, which make up Donbass and are home to a large Russian-speaking population, declared independence from Kyiv in 2014. And their forces have been fighting Ukrainian forces there ever since. Russia officially recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Ukrainian and Russian forces fought hard for Lysichansk in recent days after the fall of the neighboring city last week. On Sunday evening, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army confirmed via social media that its forces had withdrawn from Yessychansk “to save the lives of Ukrainian defenders”.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signaled the withdrawal. But he added that “Ukraine is not giving back anything” and vowed to return with more modern weapons. Citing the success of his forces in retaking other lands, he promised, “There will be a day when we will say the same about Donbass.”
Earlier, Zelensky said that Kyiv’s forces are still fighting Russian soldiers in the outskirts of Lyschansk “in a very difficult and dangerous situation.”
“We can’t give you the final verdict,” Zelensky told a news conference in Kyiv alongside the visiting Australian Prime Minister, “The fight is still being fought for Lysichansk.” He noted that the Earth could move quickly from side to side.
He acknowledged that Russian forces retain an advantage in the region, calling it the Ukrainian military’s “weak point”.
The capture of Lysichansk would give the Russians more territory from which to intensify attacks on Donetsk. In recent weeks, Russian forces were believed to hold about half of the Donetsk region, but it is not clear where things stand now.
If Russia wins in Donbass, Ukraine will not only lose territory but probably the bulk of its most capable military, opening the way for Moscow to seize more territory and strengthening its ability to dictate terms to Kyiv.
Since the failure to take Kyiv and other regions in northern and central Ukraine early in the war, Russia focused on Donbass, unleashed heavy bombardment and engaged in house-to-house fighting, devastated Lyschansk, neighboring Sievierodonetsk and nearby villages. Few details emerged from either city during the battles, which decimated its inhabitants as people were killed or fled.
Already, Russian forces appear to be pushing their advances into Donetsk, concentrating missile attacks on the large Ukrainian-controlled city of Sloviansk.Regional government spokeswoman Tatiana Ignachenko told Ukrainian television, where at least six people were killed.
The regional administration said Kramatorsk, another major city in the Donetsk region, was also under fire.
Away from the fighting in the east, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Sunday visited a town near the capital that was badly damaged at the start of the war. Albanese described the devastation at Irvine as “devastating.”
He said, “These are homes, these are livelihoods, and in fact lives have been lost here in this city.”
Meanwhile, the mayor of the Russian-occupied exiled city of Melitopol said on Sunday that Ukrainian missiles had destroyed one of four Russian military bases in the city.
Attacks inside Russia have also been reported, in a revival of sporadic Ukrainian strikes across the border. The governor of Russia’s western Belgorod region said shrapnel from an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people on Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Roman Starovit, the governor of the Kursk region, said the town of Tetkino on the Ukrainian border was hit by mortars.
Ebel reported from Prokovsk, Ukraine. Journalist Maria Grazia Moreau contributed to the Associated Press from Kyiv.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine