Russia claims it has taken over Ukraine’s entire Luhansk region after weeks of brutal fighting, which, if confirmed, would hand President Vladimir Putin a major military accomplishment more than four months after he launched his invasion of Ukraine. me.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Sunday reported to Putin that Russian forces had “liberated” the entire region after capturing Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last stronghold in Luhansk, the ministry said.
Ukraine’s general staff on Sunday night confirmed the loss of Lysychansk, saying its troops were “forced to withdraw from their occupied positions and lines” after fierce fighting. The fall of the city left only a few small Luhansk settlements under Kyiv control.
“We’ll be back and definitely win!” general staff said in a Facebook post.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned in recent days that Lysychansk could fall after troops retreated across the river from neighboring Severodonetsk.
“There are risks that the entire Luhansk region will be occupied, they can understand,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a news conference earlier on Sunday. “You have to understand that the situation can change on a daily basis.”
Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, wrote in a post on the social media app Telegram, that Lysychansk is a city “on fire”.
“The occupiers likely threw their entire force into Lysychansk. They attacked the city with incomprehensible cruel tactics.”
Haidai said the devastation in Lysychansk was even worse than in Severodonetskmuch of it was leveled by shelling.
“If some houses and government buildings survive a month of street fighting, those same government buildings will be razed in a short time,” Haidai wrote. He said that the Russian military had “suffered significant losses, but made tenacious advances”.
Pro-Russian social media accounts have posted videos showing Chechen troops posing in central Lysychansk and a Soviet flag flying from the town hall. Posts are geolocated by open source intelligence and Western analysts.
The advance through Luhansk will mark the first time Russia has established complete control over an area of Ukraine since the early weeks of the war in March.
It also brings Russia closer to capturing the border region of Donbas, eastern Ukraine, which includes Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk.
For now, Russia is likely to shift its focus to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, the largest cities in Donetsk still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, Russian forces shelled Slovyansk, killing six people and injuring 15 others, Ukrainian officials said. They also fired three rockets at Kramatorsk and “completely destroyed” a hotel.
Putin has stated the main goal of the war is to “liberate” the Donbas, where Russia began promoting a separatist proxy war that left more than 15,000 people dead in 2014 following a pro-Western revolution in Kyiv.
Pro-Moscow accounts on social media have posted footage of what they claim are locals gladly welcoming their “liberators”. Ukraine has evacuated most of its population to the west.
This industrial area is mainly run by separatist groups run by Moscow, whose independence is only recognized by Russia and Syria.
But officials regularly point out that Russia’s goals extend much further — essentially ending Ukraine’s statehood.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told state television on Sunday that Ukraine would have to agree to “all our conditions” for the war to end.
Russia took command and shifted focus to a fierce offensive in the Donbas in late March after an initial attempt to capture Kyiv and much of the rest of Ukraine east of the Dnipro River failed. It also controls Kherson and some neighboring Zaporizhia to the south, as well as parts of Kharkiv to the north of the Donbas.
On Sunday, Russia announced Ukraine had launched missile and drone strikes on the border cities of Kursk and Belgorod. The Defense Ministry said it shot down all the missiles, but that shrapnel hit residential buildings in Belgorod, just across the border from Kharkiv.
Viacheslav Gladkov, governor of Belgorod, said four people died in the apparent attack and dozens of buildings were damaged. He claimed three of the victims were Ukrainian citizens, who state media said were refugees from Kharkiv.
Russia has blamed Ukraine for a number of attacks on border cities and nearby infrastructure for supply routes since the war began. Although Ukraine has not acknowledged any attacks, it has mocked them in social media posts suggesting Russia is taking the deserts just to carry out the invasion.
Neighboring Belarus, which is allowing Russia to use its territory to attack Ukraine but has so far resisted Putin’s attempt to drag it into the war, said on Saturday it had also intercepted missiles. Ukraine launched at military targets.
Ukraine did not confirm those claims but said it destroyed a Russian base in Melitopol, a city in Zaporizhia, in a missile attack.