Kyiv – Russian forces are strengthening their positions in a grueling struggle to capture the last resistance stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, the region’s governor said on Sunday.
Ukrainian fighters have been trying to do this for weeks Defense of the city of Lysychansk, and to prevent it from falling to Russia, as neighboring Sievierodonetsk did a week ago. An aide to the president predicted his fate could be determined within days.
“The occupiers threw all their forces on Lysychansk. They attacked the city with incredibly cruel tactics,” Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on the news app Telegram. “They suffer significant casualties but advance stubbornly. They’re gaining a foothold in the city.”
A river separates Lysychansk from Sievierodonetsk. Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukraine’s president, said during an online interview late Saturday that Russian forces had managed to cross the river from the north for the first time, creating an “ominous” situation.
Arestovych said they did not reach the center of the city, but the course of fighting indicated that the battle for Lysychansk would be decided by Monday. In May, Ukrainian and British officials reported that Russia had lost nearly a battalion in an attempted crossing the river Siverskyi Donets and establish a bridgehead.
Taking Lysychansk would bring Moscow closer to its stated goal of conquest the entire Donbass region of Ukraine. Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk are the two provinces of the Donbass on which Russia has focused its offensive since withdrawing from northern Ukraine and the capital Kyiv in the spring.
Since 2014, pro-Russian separatists have held parts of both eastern provinces, and Moscow recognizes all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics. The Syrian government said on Wednesday it will also recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of the two territories.
The leader of neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed Saturday that Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory a few days ago, but all were intercepted by an air defense system. President Alexander Lukashenko called the alleged strike a provocation, noting that no Belarusian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine.
There was no immediate reaction from the Ukrainian military.
Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a base for the Russian invasion. Last week, just hours before Lukashenko’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles from Belarusian airspace at Ukraine for the first time.
Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to drag his army into the war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia intends to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko that his government is dependent on Russia’s economic support.
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