Russia says its forces now have full control of eastern Ukraine region

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KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA — Russia said on Sunday that its forces and their allies had taken control of Ukraine’s Lugansk region, after capturing the last Ukrainian stronghold of Lysychansk, although Ukraine has yet to comment after reporting heavy fighting there.

After fierce Ukrainian resistance prevented Russia from capturing the capital Kyiv following its February 24 invasion, Moscow focused on taking full control of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the eastern Donbass region in Ukraine.

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Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting in the region since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that Luhansk had been ‘liberated’, the Defense Ministry said, after Russia earlier said its forces had captured villages around Lysychansk and surrounded the city.

The minister said Russian forces and their allies in the region had “taken full control of the city of Lysychansk”.

The Ukrainian military did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ukrainian officials, who say references to “liberating” Ukrainian territory are Russian war propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.

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“Ukrainian forces likely carried out a deliberate withdrawal from Lysychansk, resulting in the Russian capture of the city on July 2,” analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote. in an information note.

They based their assessment on footage showing Russian forces casually marching through the northern and eastern neighborhoods of Lysychansk, saying this suggested few or no Ukrainian forces remained. He said the footage included footage posted to social media and geotagged to confirm where it was filmed.

“The Russians are strengthening their positions in the Lysychansk region, the city is on fire,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai wrote on the Telegram app before Russia announced its advance. “They attacked the city with inexplicably brutal tactics.”

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Thousands of civilians have been killed and towns razed to the ground since Russia invaded, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of deliberately targeting civilians. Moscow denies it.

Russia says what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine is aimed at protecting Russian speakers from nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies say this is a baseless pretext for its blatant aggression aimed at seizing territory.

ATTACKS IN BELGOROD

Russia also reported explosions in its town of Belgorod, about 40 km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine on Sunday, which killed at least three people and damaged and destroyed homes.

Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas accused Ukraine of bombing Belgorod and called for a tough response.

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Russian regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that five houses were destroyed in the city and at least 11 apartment buildings and more than 30 houses were damaged.

“The sound was so loud that I jumped up, woke up, was very scared and started screaming,” a Belgorod resident told Reuters, adding that the blasts happened around 3 p.m. a.m. (0000 GMT).

Moscow has blamed Kyiv for numerous attacks on Belgorod and other border areas with Ukraine. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility, but says the incidents are revenge after Russia reduced Ukrainian urban areas to rubble.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine on the latest Belgorod incident. Reuters could not independently verify the Russian accounts.

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In the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ukrainian forces hit a military base on Sunday with more than 30 strikes, the city’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said in an address. video on Telegram.

He said the base had been “decommissioned”.

A Moscow-based official said several private residential homes near the airfield were damaged, but there were no casualties.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said its air force had carried out about 15 sorties “in practically all directions of hostilities”, destroying equipment and two ammunition depots.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said on Sunday it struck military infrastructure in Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine where Ukrainian forces dug and built concrete fortifications after nighttime shelling, said a Reuters reporter.

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Dozens of civilians have been injured or killed in the area in recent weeks.

Far from fighting in the east and close to another front in the south, Russia said it hit army command posts in Mykolaiv near the vital Black Sea port of Odessa, where the mayor reported several powerful explosions on Saturday.

“The Russian occupiers are launching systematic rocket attacks in the direction of Mykolaiv,” the Ukrainian general staff said on Sunday. (Additional reporting from Reuters and Leah Millis Kharkiv offices; writing by Lincoln Feast and Aidan Lewis; editing by William Mallard and Edmund Blair)

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