Russia a step closer to stated goal of seizing Donbas region after claiming to have taken Lysychansk

On the 130th day of the war, Russia says it has taken the last remaining city in Luhansk and Ukraine has admitted that Russian forces are in control there, reports ITV News Correspondent John Ray from Kyiv

Russia has gained control of the last major city in Ukraine's Luhansk province, Moscow claims, taking the aggressor one step closer to its stated goal of seizing all of the Donbas region.

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the Donbas, where Russia has focused its offensive since pulling back from northern Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv, in the spring.

Pro-Russia separatists have held portions of both eastern provinces since 2014, and Moscow recognises all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics.

On Sunday, Russia's defence minister said that Russia's troops together with members of a local separatist militia "have established full control over the city of Lysychansk".

Taking Lysychansk constitutes “the liberation of the Luhansk People's Republic", Sergei Shoigu said.

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Ukrainian fighters spent weeks trying to defend Lysychansk and to keep it from falling to Russia, as neighbouring Sievierodonetsk did a week ago.

However, on Sunday Ukraine said its forces have withdrawn from the city, leaving Russia in full control of the Luhansk region.

ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo said the capture of Lysychansk showed that Russia is exerting its artillery dominance in eastern Ukraine.

Earlier on Sunday, Luhansk's governor said Russian forces were strengthening their positions in a gruelling fight to capture the last stronghold of resistance in the province.

“The occupiers threw all their forces on Lysychansk. They attacked the city with incomprehensibly cruel tactics,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app.

“They suffer significant losses, but stubbornly advance. They are gaining a foothold in the city.”

Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at damaged residential building in Lysychansk. Credit: AP

A river separates Lysychansk from Sievierodonetsk. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said during an online interview late on Saturday that Russian forces had managed for the first time to cross the river from the north, creating a “threatening” situation.

An occupation of Lysychansk would open the way for the Russians to move west into the Donetsk province, where the sizable Ukrainian-held city of Slovyansk has come under rocket attacks several times since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Mayor Vadym Lyakh said new attacks on Sunday killed an unspecified number of people.

Elsewhere in the war, the exiled mayor of the Russia-occupied city of Melitopol said on Sunday that Ukrainian rockets destroyed one of four Russian military bases in the city.

The governor of the Belgorod region in western Russia said four people were killed on Sunday by fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile. The Russian Defence Ministry said two Ukrainian drones were shot down over the city of Kursk.

Kursk regional governor Roman Starovoit said the town of Tetkino, on the Ukraine border, came under mortar fire.

Damaged residential buildings in Lysychansk. Credit: AP

The leader of neighbouring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed on Saturday that Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory several days ago but all were intercepted by an air defence system. President Alexander Lukashenko described the alleged strike as a provocation and noted that no Belarusian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine.

There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian military.

Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion. Last week, just hours before Mr Lukashenko was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles on Ukraine from Belarusian airspace for the first time.

Mr Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to draw his army into the war. But during their meeting, Mr Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded his Belarusian counterpart that his government depends on economic support from Russia.