Over the weekend, fighting for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last major bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, intensified and an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted the city could fall.
Russian forces captured Lysychansk’s sister city, Severodonetsk, across the Siverskiy Donets River, last month after some of the war’s heaviest fighting.
Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian television “Lysychansk has been brought under control”, but added: “Unfortunately, it has not yet been liberated.”
Russian media showed video of Luhansk militias parading in the streets of Lysychansk, waving flags and cheering, but spokesman for the National Guard of Ukraine, Ruslan Muzychuk, told Ukrainian television that the city remained in Ukrainian hands.
“Now there is heavy fighting near Lysychansk, but fortunately the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.
Zelenskiy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russian troops had finally crossed the Siverskiy Donets River and were approaching the city from the north.
“This is indeed a threat. We’ll see. I’m not ruling out some outcomes here. A lot more will become clear in a day or two,” he said.
“If Lysychansk is taken, it will be strategically more difficult for the Russians to continue their offensive. The front lines will be flatter and there will be a frontal attack instead of from the flanks.”
He said the Russians should focus on taking six major cities in the industrialized eastern Donbas region and their forces would be spread more thinly.
“The more Western weapons that come forward, the more the picture changes in favor of Ukraine,” he said.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked for more weapons from the West, saying its armed forces are severely outnumbered.
Elsewhere, Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port city of Odessa, reported powerful explosions in the city on Saturday.
“Stay at the shelter!” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app when the air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield records.
Ukrainian authorities said a rocket hit an apartment building near Odessa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping center was hit Monday in the central city of Kremenchuk, killing at least 19.
Zelensky denounced the attacks on Friday as “deliberate, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not as some kind of mistake or an accidental missile attack”.
‘Very difficult road’
In his overnight televised speech on Saturday, Zelensky said it would be a “very difficult road” to victory, but the Ukrainians must remain determined and inflict losses on the “aggressor”… so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken. become.
Kiev says Moscow has intensified rocket attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines, meanwhile, describe intense artillery shelling of residential areas.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities razed to the ground since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated Russia’s denials that it targets civilians.
Russia is trying to expel Ukrainian troops from Donbas’ Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kiev since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
Troops who had interrupted the fighting and spoke to Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the disputed city open for now, despite Russian bombing.
“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier as his comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.
“The Russian tactic at the moment is to shell every building we can find ourselves in. Once they destroy it, they move on to the next,” he said.
Reuters reporters saw an unexploded rocket lodged in the ground on Saturday night in a residential area on the outskirts of the Donbas city of Kramatorsk.
The rocket fell in a wooded area between residential towers. Earlier in the evening, outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in the center of Kramatorsk.
Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made progress elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, an offshoot of the Black Sea southeast of Odessa that captured Moscow at the start of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters and a major producer of vegetable oil seed. The disruptions have contributed to rising global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a major grain producer, blames the crisis on Western sanctions that hurt exports.
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