Russia Claims Last Ukrainian Stronghold in Luhansk Region

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia claimed control Sunday over the last Ukrainian stronghold in an eastern province that is key to achieving a major goal of its grinding war.

Ukraine’s General Staff of the military reported that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk in Luhansk province, but the president said the fight for the city was ongoing.

If confirmed, Russia’s complete seizure of Luhansk would provide its forces a stronger base from which to press their advance in neighboring Donetsk province and bring them one step closer to achieving one of President Vladimir Putin’s major goals: capturing the entire Donbas.

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

As is typical with such descriptions, the Russian statement characterized the victories as “the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” Separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbas and have significant Russian-speaking populations, declared independence from Kyiv in 2014, and Russia formally recognized their self-proclaimed republics days before its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

After the fall of Sievierodoentsk last week, both Russian and Ukrainian forces have been fighting fiercely for Lysychansk. On Sunday evening, the General Staff of Ukraine’s military confirmed on social media that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk “to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders.”

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

“We cannot give you the final judgment. Lysychansk is still being fought for,” Zelenskyy told a news conference in Kyiv, while noting that territory can move quickly from one side to the other.

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

Russians would have more territory to attack Donetsk if they capture Lysychansk. They are currently waging a campaign in Donbas where separatists backed by Moscow have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.

Russia would win the Donbas. Ukraine could lose land and possibly the majority of its best military forces. This opens the doors for Moscow, which will be able to take more territory from Ukraine and make it easier to dictate to Kyiv.

Russian forces already launched rocket attacks against the large Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, Donetsk. The city was the scene of new rocket attacks on Sunday. Tatyana Ignatchenko (regional government spokesperson) said at least six people had been killed.

Kramatorsk in Donetsk also under attack, according to the regional administration.

The fighting in the east is far away, but the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited an area near the capital which was badly damaged in the early stages of the war. Albanese called the destruction in Irpin “devastating.”

“These are homes and these are livelihoods and indeed lives that have been lost here in this town,” he said.

In another place, Melitopol’s exiled mayor said Sunday that Ukrainian missiles had decimated one of its four Russian military bases.

In Russia, there were reports of attacks. This was in response to sporadic Ukrainian strike across the border. According to the Governor of Belgorod, in Western Russia, fragments from an interception of a Ukrainian missile claimed that four persons were killed on Sunday. According to Russian Defense Ministry, two Ukrainian drones have been shot down in Kursk.

Roman Starovoit (Regional Governor of Kursk) stated that Tetkino on the Ukraine border was the victim to mortar fire.

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