Russia tries to push through its offensive in eastern Ukraine

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POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russian forces tried to push their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine on Monday after taking control of a key stronghold.

The Ukrainian army confirmed that its troops had withdrawn from the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk province, one of the two regions that make up the eastern industrial heart of Donbas. The Russians also control about half of Donetsk, the second province of Donbas.

An intelligence briefing Monday from the British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces will “almost certainly now” switch to capture Donetsk, much of which remains under the control of Ukrainian forces. The briefing said the conflict in Donbas has been “grinding and exhausting” and is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

The general staff of the Ukrainian army said Russian forces are currently focusing their efforts on advancing towards the Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut line in the Donetsk region. The Russian army has also intensified shelling of key Ukrainian strongholds, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

According to local authorities, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Sloviansk on Sunday and another 19 were injured. Kramatorsk also came under fire on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made conquering the entire Donbas a key goal in his war in Ukraine, now entering its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have been fighting against Ukrainian forces since 2014, when they declared independence from Kiev after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Putin’s defense minister told him on Sunday that the Russian military and its separatist allies are now in control of the entire Luhansk region after taking “complete control” of Lysychansk.

In his overnight video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the withdrawal but promised Ukrainian troops will fight their way back.

“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, especially Lysychansk, it means only one thing: we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.

Since Russia’s failure to take Kiev and other areas in northeastern Ukraine early in the war, Russia has concentrated on Donbas, with heavy shelling and house-to-house fighting devastated cities in the region.

The Russian invasion has also devastated Ukraine’s agricultural sector, disrupted the seed and fertilizer supply chains needed by Ukrainian farmers and blocked grain exports, a major source of income for the country.

In its intelligence report on Monday, the British Ministry of Defense pointed to the Russian blockade of the main Ukrainian port city of Odessa, which has severely curtailed grain exports. They predicted that Ukraine’s agricultural exports this year would be just 35% of the 2021 total.

As Moscow pushed its offensive across eastern Ukraine, areas in western Russia were attacked on Sunday 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.

– Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front lines in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine – where Russia is launching a fierce offensive – describe life during what has turned into a grueling war of attrition as apocalyptic.

Two Russian planes took off from Bulgaria on Sunday carrying dozens of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass eviction that has heightened tensions between the historically close-knit nations, a Russian diplomat said.

Associated Press journalists Maria Grazia Murru and Oleksandr Stashevskyi contributed from Kiev, Ukraine.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine at

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