KYIV, July 3 – Ukrainian forces retreated from Lysychansk, the last city of the Luhansk region that had not yet been controlled by Russia, amid heavy artillery fire to save lives of Ukrainian soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.
The retreat comes a week after Ukraine had to withdraw from a neighboring city of Siverodonetsk, the focus of Russian army’s intensive attack over the past two months.
We protect the lives of soldiers, our people,” Zelensky said in a daily video address to the nation. “We will rebuild the walls, win back the land, and people must be protected above all.”
He said the Ukrainian military will come back to recapture Lysychansk after regrouping and getting advanced weapons from its Western allies.
We will return due to our military tactics, due to increasing supply of modern weapons," Zelensky said, adding that Ukraine has made advances in other regions, such as Kharkiv, Kherson and Snake Island in the Black Sea from which the Russian forces had recently retreated.
Snake Island is a good example of that,” Zelensky said. “There will be a day when we will say the same about Donbas.”
Earlier Sunday, Luhansk's governor said Russian forces were strengthening their positions in a grueling 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."
Luhansk and neighboring 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.
An occupation of Lysychansk opens the way for the Russians to move west into Donetsk province, where the sizable Ukrainian-held city of Slovyansk has come under rocket attacks several times since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Mayor Vadym Lyakh said new attacks Sunday killed an unspecified number of people, The Associated Press reported.
Elsewhere in the war, the exiled mayor of the Russia-occupied city of Melitopol said Sunday that Ukrainian rockets destroyed one of four Russian military bases in the city.
The leader of neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed Saturday without any proof that Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory several days ago but all were intercepted by an air defense 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 Lukashenko was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles on Ukraine from Belarusian airspace for the first time.
Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to draw his army into the war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko that his government depends on economic support from Russia. (ap/ez)