Moscow/Kyiv, Jul 3 (EFE).- Russia on Sunday said that it has taken the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk and thus the entire eastern Luhansk region, although Kyiv claims that the fight to prevent the takeover of the Donbas is not over.
After 130 days of warfare, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin “of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Luhansk,” a region of eastern Ukraine recognized as an independent state by the Kremlin three days before it launched its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Shoigu made the announcement after saying that Lysychansk had fallen after Russian troops entered the city after completely surrounding it.
The Russian defense chief told Putin that, “as a result of successful military operations, the armed forces of the Russian Federation, along with units of the People’s Militia of the People’s Republic of Luhansk, have established total control over the city of Lysychansk and a number of nearby towns…”
Lysychansk is the twin city of Severodonetsk, from which Ukrainian military forces withdrew a week ago and which Russian troops had needed more than a month of bitter and bloody fighting to take.
The head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic, Leonid Pasechnik, posted on Telegram that this day will be marked in red on the calendar of “our homeland” after having “fought for this for eight years,” that is since the conflict erupted between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbas.
“As in … 1945 (with the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany), (this) also makes us weep with happiness,” he said.
Shoigu’s announcement came an hour after his spokesman said that Russian troops and pro-Russian separatist units were “fighting inside Lysychansk and finalizing the defeat of the surrounded enemy.”
On Saturday, forces under pro-Russian Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, other Russian units and Luhansk separatist forces entered the city, where they recorded and distributed several videos, one of which showed their several flags waving in front of the city’s administrative building.
The US Institute for the Study of War said Sunday that the geolocated images showed Russian forces moving through the neighborhoods in northern and southeastern Lysychansk in a manner suggesting that there had been few or no Ukrainian forces in the city since Saturday.
Early on Sunday morning, the governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Gaidai, admitted that the Russians had established positions in the Lysychansk district and were “taking territory in the city.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that it cannot be said definitively that Lysychansk is under Russian control or that the Luhansk region has fallen.
“There are battles on the outskirts of Lysychansk and our task is to obtain the advantage … Accelerating the supply of weapons would give us that opportunity,” he said, adding that “there is a risk” that the entire province could fall but going on to say that “the situation can change from day to day.”
Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Yuriy Sak also denied that Russia had achieved “complete control” over Lysychansk, although he refused to say that Ukrainian soldiers in the city had deployed to other positions.
However, late on Sunday, the Ukrainian General Staff confirmed the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the city, saying on Facebook that “After intense fighting for Lysychansk, the armed forces of Ukraine were forced to withdraw from their positions.”
“A decision to withdraw was made to save the lives of Ukrainian defenders,” according to the statement. “We continue to fight. Unfortunately, the steel willpower and patriotism are not enough to achieve success – we need the technical resources.”
But Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Yuriy Sak on Sunday told the BBC that the battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine – consisting of the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk – “is not over yet.”
At the end of June, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that Kyiv still controlled 45 percent of the area.
The big cities controlled by Ukraine have been the target of … attacks with missiles and artillery bombardments in recent days, Sak said.
Also on Sunday, in a Russian attack on Sloviansk – along with Kramatorsk, the main Ukrainian bastion in Donetsk – at least six people died and 15 were wounded, according to Tetyana Ignatchenko, the spokesperson for the regional administration.