According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian troops have surrounded the city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine. The city is the last major stronghold in the Luhansk region, reports Reuters.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has informed President Vladimir Putin that Russian forces, along with members of a local separatist militia, have taken full control of the city, Russian news agencies reported.
Russia is focused on driving Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
On Sunday morning, Russian media also reported that the Russian military claims control of the entire Donbas region, according to Reuters.
None of the information has been confirmed by Ukrainian authorities.
The Ministry of Defense stated that their troops had conquered the villages around Lysychansk, and were now fighting Ukrainian troops inside the city.
“Russian troops and forces from the Luhansk People’s Republic are fighting inside Lysychansk, completely defeating the besieged enemy,” the ministry said in a statement.
Think the city has fallen
Earlier Sunday morning, it was reported that Ukraine acknowledges that Russian forces have advanced in Lysychansk, and US experts believe that the city has already fallen.
The General Staff of Ukraine announced on Sunday that “the occupiers are concentrating on consolidating their positions in Lysychansk and Verkhnyokamynka”, and the governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Hajdaj, confirms that Russian forces have gained a foothold in the Lysychansk district.
It is unclear whether there are still Ukrainian forces in the city, where there have been heavy fighting in recent weeks.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War says in its latest report that Russian forces probably took control of Lysychansk as early as Saturday, and that the Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the city.
Russian soldiers in the streets
Photos that have been verified according to ISW show Russian soldiers walking calmly around the northern and southeastern parts of the city.
– It indicates that there are few or no remaining Ukrainian soldiers in the city on July 2, writes ISW.
Luhansk’s occupation authorities announced on Saturday that the city was completely surrounded by Russian forces, but it was rejected by the Ukrainian military, which said that fierce fighting continued.
Large parts of Donetsk are still in Ukrainian hands. The next city to be subjected to a major Russian offensive is Slavyansk, home to the Ukrainian provincial administration of Donetsk. It is already exposed to intense artillery fire.
At the same time, Russia accuses Ukraine of firing rockets at the Russian city of Belgorod, not far from the border with Ukraine, on Sunday night. At least four people have been killed.
Russian air defenses shot down three Tocha-U cluster munitions fired by Ukrainian nationalists at Belgorod. One of them fell on a house, said a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense, Igor Konashenkov.
Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of invading Russian territory, especially in the Belgorod region. Ukraine denies the allegations.