KYIV: Russia said on Sunday its forces and their allies had taken control of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, after capturing the final Ukrainian holdout of Lysychansk, although Ukraine has yet to comment after reporting heavy fighting there.
After fierce Ukrainian resistance prevented Russian seizing the capital Kyiv after its Feb. 24 invasion, Moscow turned its focus to taking full control of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting in the area since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that Luhansk had been “liberated”, the defence ministry said, after Russia earlier said its forces had captured villages around Lysychansk and encircled the city.
The minister said Russian forces and their allies in the area had “gained full control over the city of Lysychansk”.
Ukraine’s military did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ukrainian officials, who say references to “liberating” Ukrainian territory are Russian war propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.
“Ukrainian forces likely conducted a deliberate withdrawal from Lysychansk, resulting in the Russian seizure of the city on July 2,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a briefing note.
They based their assessment on footage showing Russia forces walking casually in northern and eastern neighbourhoods of Lysychansk, saying it suggested few or no Ukrainian forces remained. It said the footage included images posted on social media and geolocated to confirm where it was filmed.
“The Russians are strengthening their positions in the Lysychansk area, the city is on fire,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai had written on the Telegram app before Russia announced its advance. “They attacked the city with inexplicably brutal tactics.”
Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of deliberately targeting civilians. Moscow denies this.