Russia is mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Luhansk region, “pouring fire” on the city of Lysychansk from the ground and air, the local governor has said.
Serhiy Haidai said Russian forces were pounding Lysychansk after capturing the neighbouring city of Sievierodonetsk in recent days.
It is part of a stepped-up Russian offensive to wrest the broader Donbas region from Ukrainian government control in what western experts say has become the new main goal of President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month.
“They’re pouring fire on the city both from the air and from the ground. After the takeover of Sievierodonetsk, the enemy army has concentrated all its forces on capturing (our) last stronghold in the Luhansk region: Lysychansk,” Mr Haidai told the Associated Press.
The Russians are trying to blockade the city from the south, “destroying everything that their artillery and multiple rocket launchers can reach”, he added.
In recent weeks, Russian troops have captured several villages and towns south east of Lysychansk, and are trying to halt access to the city from the south.
To the west, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk — potentially the next major battleground — said Russian forces fired cluster munitions on the city after dawn, including one that hit a residential neighbourhood.
Authorities said the numbers of dead and injured are still to be confirmed.
Ukrainian forces have spent weeks consolidating their defences around Sloviansk out of concern it could be the next big Russian target if Lysychansk falls.
Last week, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow wanted to “capture and completely destroy” Sloviansk.
The shockwave from Monday’s blast blew out most windows in the surrounding apartment blocks and the cars parked below, littering the ground with broken glass.
“Everything is now destroyed. We are the only people left living in this part of the building. There is no power,” said local resident Valentina Vitkovska, in tears as she spoke about the blast. “I can’t even call to tell others what had happened to us.”
Mr Zelensky’s office said at least six civilians had been killed and 31 injured as part of intense Russian shelling against various Ukrainian cities over the past 24 hours — including Kyiv and major cities in the country’s south and east.
It said Russian forces fired rockets that killed two people and injured five overnight in and near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and continued to target the key southern port of Odesa. A missile attack destroyed residential buildings and injured six people, including a child, it said.
In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings and the last road bridge were damaged over the past 24 hours, Mr Haidai said. A crucial highway linking the city to government-held territory further south was rendered impassable because of shelling.
Such shelling is making the evacuation of civilians increasingly difficult, Mr Haidai said. The city had a pre-war population of around 100,000, approximately a tenth of whom remain.
Analysts say Lysychansk’s location high on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets river, as well as its large area dotted with hills, give a major advantage to the city’s Ukrainian defenders.
The river encloses Lysychansk from the north and east, while the Ukrainian army continues to hold territory west of the city, which it uses to supply arms and humanitarian aid.