Pokrovsk, Ukraine (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday declared victory in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, a day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the region’s last remaining bastion of resistance.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin in a televised meeting on Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together with neighboring Donetsk province makes up the industrial heart of Donbass in Ukraine.
Shoigu told Putin that the “operation” was completed on Sunday after Russian forces overran the city of Lyschansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.
In turn, Putin said that military units “that took part in the actual hostilities and achieved success and victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”
Putin’s announcement came as Russian forces attempted to launch their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed the withdrawal of its forces from Lyschansk on Sunday. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid the siege.
“There was a risk of encircling Lysechansk,” Hayday told the Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian forces could have held out for a few more weeks, but they would have paid a heavy price.
“We were able to centralize and evacuate all the wounded,” Hayday said. “We got all the equipment back, and from that point on the withdrawal was well organized.”
Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces were now focusing their efforts on pushing towards the Seversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut line in the Donetsk region, about half of which Russia controls. The Russian army also intensified its bombing of the main Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper into Donetsk.
On Sunday, local authorities said that six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in a Russian bombing of the city of Slovensk, and 19 others were wounded. Kramatorsk was also shot at on Sunday.
An intelligence briefing on Monday from Britain’s Ministry of Defense backed up the Ukrainian military’s assessment, noting that Russian forces would “now almost certainly” turn to the capture of Donetsk. The briefing said the conflict in Donbass has been “crunching and draining,” and is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.
While the Russian military has an enormous advantage in firepower, military analysts say it does not have any significant troop superiority. This means that Moscow lacks the resources to make quick territorial gains and can advance only slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket-propelled grenades to loosen Ukrainian defenses.
Putin has made the capture of all of Donbass a major goal in his war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces in the Donbass since 2014, when they declared independence from Kyiv after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. Russia officially recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Since the failure to capture Kyiv and other areas of northeastern Ukraine early in the war, Russia has focused on Donbass, Unleash heavy shelling and engagement in house-to-house fighting that destroyed cities in the region.
The Russian invasion also devastated Ukraine’s agricultural sector, disrupted supply chains for seeds and fertilizers needed by Ukrainian farmers, and hampered the export of grain, a major source of revenue for the country.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly video address, called for immediate economic aid to help the country rebuild even as the fighting continues.
“Reclaiming Ukraine is not only about what to do later after our victory, but also about what to do now. And we have to do it with our partners, with the whole democratic world.”
A large part of the economy was destroyed by the Russian hostilities and strikes. Thousands of companies do not operate. This means a huge need for jobs, to provide social benefits, despite lower tax revenue,” Zelensky said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense, in its intelligence report released on Monday, noted the Russian blockade of the main Ukrainian port of Odessa, which has imposed severe restrictions on grain exports. They predicted that Ukrainian agricultural exports would reach only 35% of the 2021 total this year as a result.
As Moscow tightened its offensive across eastern Ukraine, areas of western Russia were attacked on Sunday in a revival of scattered Ukrainian strikes across the border. The governor of Russia’s western Belgorod region said shrapnel from an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people on Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
In other developments:
Ukrainian soldiers return from the front lines in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine – where Russia is launching a violent offensive – Describe life during what turned into an arduous war of attrition As apocalyptic.
Two Russian planes leave Bulgaria A Russian diplomat said Sunday with dozens of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has heightened tensions between historically close countries.
Associated Press journalists Ina Varnitsia, Maria Grazia Moreau, and Alexander Stachevsky contributed. For this report from Kyiv.
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