Russia claims last Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk . region

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia on Sunday claimed control of the last Ukrainian stronghold in an eastern province that is key to achieving an important goal of its protracted war.

The Ukrainian Army General Staff reported that its troops had withdrawn from Lysychansk in Luhansk province, but the president said the battle for the city was ongoing.

If confirmed, Russia’s complete capture of Luhansk would provide its troops with a stronger base from which to continue their advance into the neighboring Donetsk province and bring them one step closer to achieving one of President Vladimir Putin’s key goals: conquer the whole of Donbas.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that Russian troops, with members of a local separatist militia, have “established complete control of the city of Lysychansk” and now control all of Luhansk, according to a statement from the ministry released Sunday. published.

As is typical of such descriptions, the Russian statement characterized the victories as “the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic”. Separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk, which are part of the Donbas and have a sizable Russian-speaking population, declared independence from Kiev in 2014, and Russia formally recognized their self-proclaimed republics, days before the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting fiercely for Lysychansk in recent days after neighboring Sievierodoentsk fell last week. On Sunday evening, the General Staff of the Ukrainian army confirmed on social media that its troops had withdrawn from Lysychansk “to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders”.

Earlier, however, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said Kiev’s forces are still fighting Russian soldiers on the outskirts of the city “in a very difficult and dangerous situation”.

“We cannot give you the final verdict. There is still a fight for Lysychansk,” Zelenskyy told a news conference in Kiev, noting that territory can move quickly from one side to the other.

Russian forces have an edge in the area, he acknowledged, calling it a Ukrainian military “weak spot.”

The capture of Lysychansk would give the Russians more territory from which to intensify their attacks on Donetsk as they campaign in the Donbas, an area of ​​mines and factories where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

If Russia triumphs in the Donbas, Ukraine would lose not only land but perhaps most of its most capable military forces, paving the way for Moscow to capture more territory and bolster its ability to dictate terms to Kiev.

Russian forces have already concentrated rocket attacks on the sizeable Ukrainian-occupied city of Sloyansk in Donetsk. New attacks were reported in the city on Sunday. At least six people were killed, regional government spokeswoman Tatyana Ignatchenko told Ukrainian TV.

Kramatorsk, another major city in the Donetsk region, also came under fire, the regional administration said.

Far from the fighting in the east, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanian Sunday visited a town near the capital that had been badly damaged at the start of the war. Albanian called the destruction in Irpin “devastating”.

“These are houses and these are livelihoods and even lives that have been lost here in this city,” he said.

Elsewhere, the exiled mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol said on Sunday that Ukrainian missiles destroyed one of four Russian military bases in the city.

Attacks were also reported in Russia, in a resurgence of sporadic apparent Ukrainian attacks across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region of western Russia said four people were killed on Sunday after fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile. Two Ukrainian drones were shot down in the Russian city of Kursk, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Kursk regional governor Roman Starovoit said the town of Tetkino, on the border with Ukraine, came under mortar fire.

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