By FRANCESCA EBEL
POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tried Monday to press their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after taking control of a key stronghold.
The Ukrainian military confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from the city of Lysychansk, the last bulwark of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk province, one of the two regions that make up the country’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. The Russians also control about half of Donetsk, the second province of Donbas.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said the Russian forces were currently focusing their efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.
The Russian army also has intensified the shelling of key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk deeper in the Donetsk region.
On Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Sloviansk and another 19 people were wounded, according to local authorities. Kramatorsk also came under fire on Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made capturing the entire Donbas a key goal in his war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Putin’s defense minister reported to him Sunday that the Russian army and its separatist allies now hold all of the Luhansk region after taking “full control” of Lysychansk.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the withdrawal, but vowed that Ukrainian forces will fight their way back.
“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.
Since failing to take Kyiv and other areas in Ukraine’s northeast early in the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing fierce shelling and engaging in house-to-house combat that devastated cities in the region.
As Moscow pushed its offensive across Ukraine’s east, areas in western Russia came under attack Sunday in a revival of sporadic apparent Ukrainian strikes across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region in Western Russia said fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Associated Press journalists Maria Grazia Murru and Oleksandr Stashevskyi contributed from Kyiv, Ukraine.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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