KYIV—Russia said it had taken full control of the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk on Sunday after capturing the final Ukrainian bastion of Lysychansk, the city where Kyiv said it had withdrawn to save the lives of its troops.
The region’s capture, a major Russian war aim, is a political victory for the Kremlin after weeks of slow advances and shifts the battlefield focus to neighboring Donetsk region, where Kyiv still controls substantial territory.
After pulling back from northern Ukraine and the capital Kyiv in the spring, Russia has concentrated its military operation on the industrial Donbas heartland that comprises the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Moscow-backed separatist proxies have been fighting Ukraine since 2014.
Russia says it is capturing Luhansk region in order to give it to the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic whose independence it recognized on the eve of the war.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that Luhansk had been “liberated”, the defense ministry said, after Russia earlier said its forces had captured villages around Lysychansk and encircled the city.
Ukraine’s military command said its forces had been forced to retreat from the city.
“The continuation of the defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw,” it said in a statement on social media.
Ukrainian officials, who say references to “liberating” Ukrainian territory are Russian propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.
In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, Luhansk’s regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, also confirmed Ukraine’s withdrawal after “heavy fighting.”
“No betrayal here! When you write—surrendered, gave up, abandoned, think first and foremost about the price of advancing towards our victory, about the fighters who defended the city, some at the cost of their own lives,” Haidai wrote.
West of Lysychansk in Donetsk region, at least six people were killed when the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk was hit by powerful shelling from multiple rocket launchers on Sunday, local officials said.
Russia’s defense ministry also said on Sunday it had struck the military infrastructure of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city in the northeast, where a Reuters reporter said Ukrainian forces had been building fortifications after nightly shelling.
Outside a school in Kharkiv, some residents threw debris into a large crater created by an early morning rocket strike while others got help repairing damaged houses.
“The wife was lucky that she woke up early in the morning because the roof fell exactly where she had been sleeping,” one resident, Oleksii Mihulin, told Reuters.
About 70 kilometers (44 miles) from Kharkiv on the Russian side of the border, Russia also reported explosions on Sunday in Belgorod, which it said killed at least three people and destroyed homes.
“The sound was so strong that I jumped up, I woke up, got very scared and started screaming,” a Belgorod resident told Reuters, adding the blasts occurred around 3 a.m.
Moscow has accused Kyiv of numerous attacks on Belgorod and other areas bordering Ukraine. Kyiv has never claimed responsibility for any of these incidents.
Military Base Hit
Ukraine said its air force had flown some 15 sorties “in virtually all directions of hostilities,” destroying equipment and two ammunition depots.
In the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ukrainian forces hit a military logistics base with more than 30 strikes on Sunday, the city’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said. A Russian-installed official confirmed that strikes had hit the city.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Ukraine has repeatedly appealed for an acceleration in weapons supplies from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned.
Speaking on a visit to Kyiv, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government would provide Ukraine with additional armored vehicles, as well as tightening sanctions against Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told broadcaster ARD that Germany was discussing with its allies security guarantees for Ukraine after the war, though it was clear these would “not be the same as if someone were a member of NATO.”