After weeks of fighting, pro-Russian separatists say they have completely surrounded and presumably already taken the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk.
Together with Russian soldiers, the separatists took control of the city administration building, separatist representative Andrei Marochko told the Russian news agency Interfax on Saturday evening.
Observers also assume that the Ukrainian troops have already completely withdrawn. So far there has been no communication from the Ukrainian General Staff or the Russian Ministry of Defense about the reports.
However, videos and photos on social networks show pro-Russian troops in the center of the city. The President of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, had previously spoken of the conquest of the city center. Such information could not be verified independently.
Previously, separatist representative Marochko had declared together with Russian troops that “today the last strategic hills” had been conquered. “With that, we can report that Lysychansk is completely encircled.”
The Ukrainian side also speaks of fierce fighting, but continues to describe the city as contested. The governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Hayday said the Russians were trying to storm Lysychansk from different directions.
Ukrainian soldiers spoke on Saturday of systematic shelling of the city’s buildings by Russian artillery. “The Russian tactic at the moment is to shell every building we might be in. When they destroy it, they move on to the next one,” a soldier told Reuters in the town of Konstyantynivka, west of Lysychansk. The Ukrainian army has so far been able to keep the road to supply Lysychansk open.
Lysychansk is the last large town in the Luhansk region that the Ukrainian troops have recently held. The conquest of the area was one of Moscow’s declared goals in the war that has been going on for more than four months.
Last week, the Ukrainian military had to give up the city of Sievjerodonetsk, which is only across the river from Lysychansk. Both cities belong to the Luhansk region, one of the two sub-regions of the Donbass.
Should Russian troops actually take Lysychansk as well, the Luhansk region would be completely occupied by pro-Russian troops. They could then target Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in the second Donbass sub-region, Donetsk.
Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, Russia continued its attacks on a broad front. The Ministry of Defense in Moscow claimed that several Ukrainian weapons caches were destroyed in airstrikes.
The Ukrainian General Staff in Kyiv reported that in the area around Kharkiv – the country’s second largest city – the Russian army is trying to recapture lost positions with the support of artillery. Information from the combat zones can hardly be checked independently.
According to Ukrainian sources, Russia is said to have used banned cluster munitions in rocket attacks on the city of Sloviansk on Saturday night, killing at least four people. Civilian areas where there are no military installations were hit, Mayor Vadym Lyakh reported on the Telegram messenger service.
Cluster munitions are rockets and bombs that burst in mid-air over the target, releasing many small explosive devices. Their use is outlawed under international law.
According to British estimates, Russia is increasingly using inaccurate missiles in Ukraine. The reason is probably that stocks of modern, accurate weapons are dwindling, according to the Ministry of Defense in London.
Surveillance footage showed that a shopping center in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was most likely hit by a Ch-32 missile. This is a further development of the Soviet missile Ch-22, which is still not optimized to hit ground targets accurately. At least 20 people were killed in Monday’s attack in Kremenchuk.
Britain protested Russia’s treatment of prisoners of war following reports of the capture of two more Britons in eastern Ukraine. “We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war and civilians for political ends and have raised this with Russia,” the State Department said. The Russian state agency Tass had previously reported, citing pro-Russian separatists, that two Britons had been charged with “mercenary activities”.