Fighting escalates for Ukraine’s last stronghold in eastern Luhansk province

  • Ukraine rejects allegations that the city is surrounded
  • ‘Stay in the shelters!’ Mayor of Mykolaiv tells residents
  • Ukrainian troops say Russian artillery razes buildings
  • Zelenskiy insists on the need to maintain determination
  • Moscow reiterates denials that civilians have targeted

KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA, Ukraine, July 2 (Reuters) – Fighting intensified on Saturday for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last stronghold in the strategic eastern province of Lugansk, as explosions rocked a southern town after the toll Civilian Russian strikes soared in towns well behind the front lines.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the so-called pro-Moscow Lugansk People’s Republic, told Russian television that “Lysychansk has been brought under control”, but added: “Unfortunately, it is not released yet”.

Russian media showed videos of the Luhansk militia marching through the streets of Lysychansk waving flags and cheering, but Ukrainian National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television that the city remained under attack. Ukrainian hands.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, but fortunately the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.

He said that the situations in the Lysychansk and Bakhmut regions, as well as in the Kharkiv region, were the most difficult on the entire front line.

“The enemy’s objective here remains access to the administrative border of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In addition, in the direction of Sloviansk, the enemy is attempting assault actions,” he said. declared.

Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the southern Mykolaiv region, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odessa, reported powerful explosions in the city.

“Stay in the shelters! he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as the air raid sirens sounded.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.

Authorities said a missile hit a building near Odessa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping center was hit in the central city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing at least 19 people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday denounced the strikes as “conscious and deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some kind of mistake or chance missile strike.”

In his televised address on Saturday evening, he said it would be a “very difficult road” to victory, but that it was necessary for the Ukrainians to maintain their resolve and inflict losses on “the aggressor … so that every Russian remember that Ukraine cannot be broken.”

“In many parts of the front there is a sense of calm, but the war is not over,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is escalating in different places and we must not forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at the moment.”

Kyiv says Moscow has stepped up missile attacks on towns away from major battlefields in the east and deliberately hit civilian sites. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops on the eastern frontlines describe intense artillery barrages that hit residential areas.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and towns razed to the ground since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Russian denials that his forces were targeting civilians.

Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its “special military operation”, the Russian Defense Ministry said, although it is not clear whether he was in Ukraine.

The inspection followed slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in eastern Ukraine, a target for Moscow after it narrowed its wider war aims of toppling the government following fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Lugansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialized Eastern Donbass region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

“Certainly they are trying to demoralize us. Maybe some people are affected by this, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination,” said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk.

‘BURNING’ HOUSES

Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city, Sievierodonetsk, last month after some of the war’s heaviest fighting reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble. Other settlements now face similar bombardments.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram that the shelling had prevented Lysychansk residents from putting out the fires and added: “Private houses in the attacked villages are burning one by one.”

Ukraine has demanded more weapons from the West, saying its forces are vastly outnumbered by the Russian military.

Troops on a break from fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a town some 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the town’s supply route open besieged, despite the Russian bombardments.

“We always use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier, who usually lives in Kyiv and asked not to be named, as comrades walked past. relaxing nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.

“The Russian tactic at the moment is to bomb any building where we might locate ourselves. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” the soldier said.

Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged in the ground of a residential area on the outskirts of the Donbass city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.

The missile fell in a wooded area between residential towers. Police and military cordoned off an area a few meters around the missile and told passers-by to back off. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.

Although beaten in the east, Ukrainian forces made progress elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odessa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.

Russia had used Snake Island to blockade Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters and a major producer of seeds for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a spike in global grain and food prices.

Russia, also a major grain producer, denies causing the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for hurting its exports.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Lincoln Feast, Edmund Blair, Ron Popeski and David Brunnstrom; Editing by William Mallard, Catherine Evans, Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Joan J. Holland