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Ukrainian army announces retreat from Lysychansk

Ukrainian presidnet Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously denied Russian claims that the city had been captured.

People walk past part of a rocket that sits wedged in the ground in Lysychansk.
People walk past part of a rocket that sits wedged in the ground in Lysychansk.
Image: Leo Correa via PA

Updated Jul 3rd 2022, 3:05 PM

THE UKRAINIAN ARMY has said its soldiers had retreated from the strategic eastern city of Lysychansk after weeks of fierce fighting with Russian troops.

“In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw,” the army said in a statement, pointing to Russia’s superiority in numbers and equipment.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had previously denied Moscow’s claim that Russian troops had captured Ukraine’s strategic eastern city of Lysychansk.

“We cannot say today that Lysychansk is under (Russian) control. There is fighting on the outskirts,” Zelenskyy told a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Zelensky warned, however, of “risks” that the Lugansk region, where Lysychansk was the last major city in Ukrainian hands, “will be completely occupied” by Moscow.

The mayor of Sloviansk, 75 kilometres (45 miles) west of Lysychansk, reported on Sunday that “many” people were killed in fresh bombardment by the advancing Russian forces.

The development came as Belarus said it had intercepted missiles fired by Kyiv and Russia reported that Ukraine launched three cluster missiles at Belgorod, killing four people.

Lysychansk had been the last major city in the Lugansk area of the Donbas still in Ukrainian hands and its capture would signal a deeper push into the eastern region, Moscow’s focus since retreating from Kyiv.

On Saturday, there were conflicting reports about Lysychansk’s status with Ukraine denying Moscow’s claim to have encircled the entire city, located across the river from neighbouring Severodonetsk which Russian forces seized last week.

“Sergei Shoigu has informed the commander in chief of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin, of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Lugansk,” the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.

A few minutes prior to the announcement, which AFP has not verified, a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry had said fighting was ongoing in Lysychansk and that Ukrainian forces were “completely” surrounded.

In Siversk, 30 kilometres west of Lysychansk, there was overnight shelling, residents and an official told AFP.

“It was intense and it was shooting from all sides,” said a woman sheltering in a cellar.

Russian city struck

Russia’s claim of a breakthrough came as Moscow said its anti-aircraft defences shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by “Ukrainian nationalists” against Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border.

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 11 residential buildings and 39 houses were damaged.

Russia has previously accused Kyiv of conducting strikes on Russian soil, particularly in the Belgorod region.

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Separately, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accused Kyiv of “provoking” his country and said his army intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian forces “around three days ago”.

Belarus is a long-term Russian ally that supported the invasion of Ukraine, and has been accused by Kyiv of launching its own attacks on Ukrainian territory.

But Lukashenko denied any involvement in a recent cross-border incident, which would represent an escalation of the conflict.

“As I said more than a year ago, we do not intend to fight in Ukraine,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Belta on Saturday.

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