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Russia claims capture of Lysychansk, key for control of Ukraine’s east

July 3, 2022 Updated Sun., July 3, 2022 at 8:09 a.m.

Fearing they spotted a Russian drone overhead, fighters of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense take cover on June 21, 2022, in woods along a road that leads to Lysychansk, Ukraine. Moscow claimed Sunday that its forces and their separatist allies captured the city of Lysychansk.  (Heidi Levine/For The Washington Post)
Fearing they spotted a Russian drone overhead, fighters of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense take cover on June 21, 2022, in woods along a road that leads to Lysychansk, Ukraine. Moscow claimed Sunday that its forces and their separatist allies captured the city of Lysychansk. (Heidi Levine/For The Washington Post)
By Annabelle Timsit, Annabelle C. Chapman and Bryan Pietsch The Washington Post

Moscow claimed Sunday that its forces and their separatist allies captured the city of Lysychansk, the last major Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk region - signaling a potential turning point in Russia’s effort to gain control of eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Telegram that its forces and the pro-Russian separatists of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic “have established full control” over Lysychansk “and a number of nearby settlements.”

The city is a key target in Russia’s battle to capture the Donbas region, an area bordering Russia that is partly controlled by separatists loyal to Moscow. In 2014, they unilaterally established two independent “republics” in the Donbas region, and Russian President Vladimir Putin cited false claims of Ukrainian “genocide” against Russian-speaking residents there as justification for his invasion. Ukraine had been furiously defending the region for weeks, and a Ukrainian presidential adviser had said its fate could be determined in the coming days.

Kyiv did not confirm Russia’s capture of Lysychansk, and a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman told the BBC on Sunday that the city was not under Russia’s “full control.”

But the spokesman, Yuriy Sak, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces could retreat from parts of the city amid “very intense” Russian attacks. “For Ukrainians, the value of human life is a top priority, so sometimes we may retreat from certain areas so that we can retake them in the future,” Sak told the broadcaster.

Ukrainian troops withdrew just over a week ago from Severodonetsk, a neighboring city across the Donetsk River to the east. Russia’s capture of Lysychansk, if confirmed, would be a major victory that gives its troops clear access to Donetsk, the other region that makes up Donbas.

Control over Donbas is the primary goal of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, after it failed to capture the capital, Kyiv, and other areas in the initial weeks of the war. Russian troops and their allies have been making steady gains in the east, as officials in Kyiv say they are outgunned and running out of ammunition.

Sak told the BBC that Ukraine controls other cities in Donetsk and argued that “the battle for the Donbas is not over yet.”

Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said earlier in the day that in attacking Lysychansk, Russian fighters used tactics even more brutal than in Severodonetsk to overcome resistance there. Photos showed bombed-out residential buildings in Lysychansk early Sunday, amid a barrage reminiscent of the destruction of Severodonetsk that preceded Russia’s capture of that city.

A Russian-backed politician said Saturday that Lysychansk was “completely surrounded,” which Ukraine disputed.

But Ukrainian counterclaims were probably “outdated or erroneous,” according to an analysis from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank. It cited unconfirmed videos showing Russian forces erecting a red “victory” flag in Lysychansk and “casually walking around” its neighborhoods.

“Ukrainian forces likely conducted a deliberate withdrawal from Lysychansk, resulting in the Russian seizure of the city on July 2,” it said.

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