Russian forces are storming the city of Lysychansk and its environs in an all-out effort to capture the last resistance stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, the governor said on Saturday.
Ukrainian fighters have spent weeks trying to defend the city and prevent it from falling into Russia, as neighboring Severodonetsk did a week ago. Russia’s defense ministry said its forces have taken control of an oil refinery on the outskirts of Lysychansk in recent days, but Luhansk’s government Serhiy Haidai said on Friday that the battle over the facility continued.
“Over the past day, the occupiers have opened fire with all types of weapons available,” Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app on Saturday.
Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the Donbas region, where Russia has been targeting its offensive since it withdrew from northern Ukraine and the capital Kiev in the spring.
Pro-Russian separatists have occupied parts of both 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 areas and work to establish diplomatic relations with the separatists.
Four people were killed when Russian troops fired cluster munitions late Friday in Slovyansk, a major city in Donetsk still under Ukrainian control, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook. He said the affected neighborhoods contained no potential military targets.
Apartment building hit near Odessa
Elsewhere, early Friday, investigators combed the wreckage of a Russian airstrike on residential areas near the Ukrainian port of Odessa, which killed 21 people.
Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said investigators were recovering fragments of missiles that hit an apartment building in the small coastal town of Serhiivka. They also took measurements to determine the weapons’ trajectory, she said.
“We are taking all necessary investigative measures to determine the specific people who are guilty of this horrific war crime,” Venediktova said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said three anti-ship missiles hit “an ordinary residential building, a nine-storey building” containing about 160 people. Among the victims of Friday’s attack were four members of a family who stayed at a “typical” seaside campsite, he said.
“I emphasize this is a deliberate, direct Russian terror, and not a mistake or an accidental missile attack,” Zelensky said.
Missiles lack precision accuracy
The British Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that air-launched anti-ship missiles generally lack precision accuracy against ground targets. It said Russia was likely using such missiles because of a shortage of more accurate weapons.
The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the Russian military is targeting fuel depots and military facilities, not residential areas, although rockets have also recently hit an apartment building in Kiev and a shopping center in the central city of Kremenchuk.
On Saturday, Kremenchuk mayor Vitaliy Maletskyy said the death toll in the mall attack had risen to 21 and one person is still missing.
Ukrainian authorities interpreted the missile strike in Odessa as retaliation for the withdrawal of Russian troops from a nearby Black Sea island, with both symbolic and strategic significance in the war that began with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Moscow portrayed their departure from Snake Island as a “goodwill gesture” to help unblock grain exports.