Russian forces have crushed the city of Lysychansk and its environs in a sweeping attempt to capture the last stronghold of the resistance in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, the governor said on Saturday.
Ukrainian fighters have been trying for weeks to defend the city and prevent it from falling to Russia like neighboring Sievierodonetsk did a week ago. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had taken control of an oil refinery on the outskirts of Lysychansk in recent days, but Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai reported on Friday that fighting around the plant continued.
“On the last day, the occupiers opened fire with all available types of weapons,” Haidai said on the news app Telegram on Saturday.
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Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the Donbass region, where Russia has focused its offensive since withdrawing from northern Ukraine and the capital Kyiv in the spring.
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Since 2014, pro-Russian separatists have held parts of both eastern provinces, and Moscow recognizes all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics. The Syrian government said Wednesday it will also recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of the two territories and will work to establish diplomatic ties with the separatists.
In Sloviansk, a major Donetsk city still under Ukrainian control, four people died late Friday when Russian forces fired cluster munitions, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook. He said the affected neighborhoods contained no potential military targets.
The leader of neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed Saturday that Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory a few days ago, but all were intercepted by the air defense system. President Alexander Lukashenko called it a provocation, noting that no Belarusian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine. There was no immediate reaction from the Ukrainian military.
Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a base for the Russian invasion. Last week, just hours before Lukashenko’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles from Belarusian airspace at Ukraine for the first time.
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Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to drag his army into the war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia intends to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko how dependent his government is on economic support from Russia.
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Lukashenko also claimed on Saturday that two Belarusian truck drivers were killed in Ukraine. Ukraine said the truckers were at a gas station when it was hit by a Russian airstrike in March, but Lukashenko claimed organs were cut out of their bodies to hide evidence they were shot.
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Elsewhere in Ukraine, investigators were combing the debris from a Russian airstrike early Friday on residential areas near the Ukrainian port of Odessa that killed 21 people.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said investigators recovered fragments of rockets that hit an apartment building in the small coastal town of Serhiivka. They also took measurements to determine the trajectories of the weapons and “the specific individuals guilty of this horrific war crime,” she said.
Larissa Andruchenko said she was in the kitchen making tea around 1 a.m. when an explosion ripped open the doors. At first she thought the propane tank had exploded and called her husband into the kitchen.
“And right then the lights went out and it was a nightmare. We’re both in the kitchen with glass flying, everything flying,” she said.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said three anti-ship missiles hit “an ordinary residential building, a nine-story building” housing about 160 people. Four family members who were staying at a seaside campsite were also among the victims of Friday’s attack, he said.
“I emphasize: This is deliberate direct Russian terror and not a mistake or a random missile attack,” Zelenskyy said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Saturday that air-launched anti-ship missiles generally lack precise accuracy against ground targets. It said Russia is probably using such missiles because of a lack of more accurate weapons.
The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the Russian military is targeting fuel depots and military installations rather than residential areas, although rockets have also recently hit an apartment building in Kyiv and a shopping center in downtown Kremenchuk.
On Saturday, Kremenchuk Mayor Vitaliy Maletskyy said the death toll in the attack on the mall had risen to 21 and one person was still missing.
Ukrainian authorities interpreted the missile attack in Odessa as payback for withdrawing Russian troops from a nearby Black Sea island, with both symbolic and strategic importance in the war that began with Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow portrayed her departure from Snake Island as a “goodwill gesture” to help unblock grain exports.
© 2022 The Associated Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/8963236/russia-assault-ukraine-luhansk/ Russian forces attack Luhansk province in eastern Ukraine – National