Russia on Sunday claimed to have taken the strategic Ukrainian city of Lysychansk and the entire frontline of Lugansk, as a mayor said six people had been killed by Russian shelling in the west.
The gains claimed by Russia would mark a decisive breakthrough for Moscow’s forces seeking control of eastern Ukraine more than four months after their invasion and after shifting their focus from the capital Kiev.
On Sunday, Russia accused Ukraine of firing three cluster missiles at the city of Belgorod, near the Ukrainian border, and late Saturday, Belarus said it had intercepted Ukrainian missiles.
“Sergei Shoigu has informed the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces, Vladimir Putin, of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Lugansk,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.
Ukraine has not yet commented on Russia’s claim that Lysychansk has fallen.
On Saturday, there were conflicting reports about Lysychansk’s status, with Ukraine denying Moscow’s claim to have surrounded the entire city, which lies just across the river from neighboring Severodonetsk, which was taken by Russian forces last week.
“It was intense and it shot from all sides,” said a woman hiding in a basement.
A strike in the town of Dobropillya has killed two people and injured three, including two children, according to local authorities in Donetsk.
Zelensky said that “colossal investment” would be needed and that 10 regions of Ukraine had been affected by the war, with many towns and villages having to be “rebuilt from scratch”.
Ukraine will also face demands for wide-ranging reforms, especially in the crackdown on corruption after Brussels recently granted Kiev candidate status in its bid to join the 27-member bloc.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 11 residential buildings and 39 houses were damaged.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accused Kiev of provocation on Saturday, saying his army intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian troops “about three days ago”.
Lukashenko denied any involvement in a recent cross-border incident that would escalate the conflict.
“We do not intend to fight in Ukraine,” he told state news agency Belta on Saturday.
“The city of Melitopol is covered in smoke,” exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said.
Farmer Sergiy Lyubarsky, whose fields are close to the front lines, warned that time is running out to harvest this year’s crop.
Western powers have accused Putin of using the captured harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.
Originally published as Russia claims main city in Ukraine, shelling kills 6 in Sloviansk