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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's report during their meeting in the Kremlin. Mikhail Klimentyev

Putin orders troops to press ahead with Ukraine offensive after taking control of Lugansk region

The Ukrainian army retreated from the strategic city of Lysychansk over the weekend following weeks of fierce fighting.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR Putin has ordered troops to press their offensive deeper into the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after Moscow’s forces seized the strategic city of Lysychansk.

With the war now well into its fifth month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, governments and organisations gathered for a conference in Switzerland to launch a plan to rebuild the country even as the conflict shows no sign of abating.

The loss of Lysychansk over the weekend prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to step up calls for an increased supply of weapons from the West so Kyiv can keep up the resistance and regain lost territories.

After giving up on its initial war aim of capturing Kyiv following tough Ukrainian resistance, Russia has focused its efforts on securing control of the Donetsk and Lugansk areas which make up the Donbas region.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin at a meeting that Moscow’s forces were now in full control of the Lugansk region.

In a sign there would be no let-up in the fighting and that Russia now had its eyes on the entire Donetsk region, Putin told Shoigu that troops stationed there must continue their operations.

“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin said.

“I hope that everything will continue in their direction as has happened in Lugansk so far.”

The Ukrainian army said on Sunday it was retreating from Lysychansk to preserve the lives of its troops after finding itself outnumbered and outgunned by Russian forces there.

‘Most modern weapons’

But in a symbolic boost for Ukraine, the Ukrainian flag was raised on Snake Island, an rocky outcrop in the Black Sea, after Russia withdrew from the strategically important Ukrainian territory last week.

russia-ukraine-war Ukrainian rescuers look at a crater in the school yard after an attack in Kharkiv. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

Moscow’s capture of Lysychansk – one week after the Ukrainian army also retreated from the neighbouring city of Severodonetsk – frees up Russian forces to advance on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk.

Lugansk region governor Sergiy Gayday said on Telegram that there was still fighting in the town of Bilogorivka outside Lysychansk.

“We keep defending a small part of the Lugansk region so that our army could build protective redoubts,” he added.

In an address late Sunday, Zelenskyy vowed Kyiv would fight on and ensure the military had “the most modern weapons”.

“Ukraine will reach the level when the fire superiority of the occupiers will be levelled.”

In Sloviansk, about 75 kilometres west of Lysychansk, there were few people on the streets on Monday, the day after Russian strikes that left at least six dead, among them a nine-year-old girl, and 19 injured.

In the large downtown market largely ravaged by a fire caused by a Russian strike, a few vendors offered basic goods while others cleared charred debris.

Vendors and residents who spoke to AFP, some still in shock, expressed concern for the days and weeks to come, as sounds of shelling were heard again.

‘Common task of democratic world’

Addressing the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Switzerland via video link today, Zelenskyy said that rebuilding Ukraine is the “common task of the whole democratic world”, and insisted that the recovery of his war-torn country would serve world peace.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is the biggest contribution to the support of global peace,” he said.

switzerland-ukraine Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a speech by video conference during the Ukraine Recovery Conference URC in Lugano. ALESSANDRO DELLA VALLE ALESSANDRO DELLA VALLE

The two-day conference, held under tight security in the picturesque southern Swiss city of Lugano, had been planned well before Russia’s full-scale invasion.

It had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on reconstruction.

Lugano is not a pledging conference but will instead attempt to lay out the principles and priorities for a rebuilding process designed to begin even as the war rages.

Zelenskyy said the aim of reconstruction was “the most ambitious project of our time”.

But he told the leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and the private sector that the colossal investments that would be needed were not for Ukraine alone.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation. It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

“We are uniting the democratic world… The outlook of free people always prevails.”

Zelenskyy’s Swiss counterpart and conference co-host, Ignazio Cassis, stressed the importance of supporting Ukraine “in this time of horror, wanton destruction and grief”.

It was vital, he said, “to provide the people of Ukraine with the prospect of a return to a life of self-determination, peace and a bright future”.

While Zelenskyy was unable to leave Ukraine to co-host the event with Cassis, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal attended, in a rare trip outside Ukraine since the war began.

switzerland-ukraine Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, leads Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Swiss President Ignazio Cassis during the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

Five other government ministers were also among the around 100 Ukrainians who made the journey, although Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.

In all, around 1,000 people were scheduled to participate in Lugano, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland.

“We know that their fight is also our fight,” Von der Leyen told the conference.

“(That is) why we work in these days to help Ukraine to win this war,” she said.

“We must also make sure that Ukraine wins the peace that will come for sure.”

© AFP 2022

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