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Zelensky vows to return to Lysychansk after Ukrainian troops withdraw


KYIV – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that Kyiv forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk in the eastern region of Donbass after a heavy Russian assault, but vowed to regain control of the area with weapons long-range Western.

Russia said its capture of the city of Lysychansk less than a week after taking neighboring Sievierdonetsk gave it full control of the eastern Luhansk region – a political victory that fulfills a key Kremlin war objective. The battlefield now focuses on the neighboring region of Donetsk, where Kyiv still controls swathes of territory.

“If the commanders of our army are withdrawing people from certain points of the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in firepower, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing,” said Zelensky in his nightly video speech.

“That we will come back thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increased supply of modern weapons.”

Zelensky said Russia was concentrating its firepower on the Donbass front, but Ukraine would retaliate with long-range weapons such as US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers.

“The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, of our people, plays an equally important role. We are going to rebuild the walls, we are going to reclaim the land and the people must be protected first and foremost,” Zelensky said.

Since abandoning its assault on the capital Kyiv, Russia has focused its military operation on the industrial heartland of Donbass which includes the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Moscow-backed separatist proxies have been fighting Ukraine since 2014.

Russia says it is seizing the Luhansk region to give it to the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic, whose independence it recognized on the eve of the war.

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 Ukrainian military command said its forces had been forced to withdraw from the city.

“The continued defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was taken to withdraw,” he said in a statement on social media.

Ukrainian officials, who say references to the “liberation” of Ukrainian territory are Russian propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.

West of Lysychansk in the Donetsk region, at least six people were killed when the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk was hit by heavy shelling from multiple rocket launchers on Sunday, local officials said.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and towns razed to the ground since the Russian invasion on February 24, 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 blatant aggression aimed at seizing territory.

As Russia would try to portray its advance in Luhansk as a significant moment in the war, it cost the Russian military dearly, said Neil Melvin of the London-based think tank RUSI.

“Ukraine’s position has never been that they can defend all of this. What they tried to do was slow down the Russian onslaught and cause maximum damage, while they prepare a counter-offensive,” he said.

Zelensky said Russia had “brutally” hit Kharkiv, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk with rocket attacks, killing six and injuring 20 in Sloviansk alone.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said on Sunday it struck military infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, where a Reuters reporter said Ukrainian forces had built fortifications after night bombardments.

Outside a school in Kharkiv, some residents threw debris into a large crater created by an early morning rocket fire while others got help to repair damaged homes.

“The woman was lucky to wake up early in the morning because the roof fell right where she was sleeping,” resident Oleksii Mihulin told Reuters.

About 70 km (44 miles) from Kharkiv on the Russian side of the border, Russia also reported explosions on Sunday in Belgorod, which it said killed at least three people and destroyed homes.

“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 a.m. morning (12:00 GMT).

Moscow has blamed Kyiv for numerous attacks on Belgorod and other border areas with Ukraine. Kyiv has never claimed responsibility for any of these incidents.

Ukraine said its air force had carried out about 15 sorties “in virtually all directions of hostilities”, destroying equipment and two ammunition depots.

In the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ukrainian forces hit a military logistics base on Sunday with more than 30 strikes, the city’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said. A Russian-installed official confirmed that strikes had hit the city.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.

Ukraine has repeatedly called for an acceleration of arms supplies to the West, saying its forces are largely under-armed.

Speaking during a visit to Kyiv, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government would provide Ukraine with additional armored vehicles, as well as tougher sanctions against Russia.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the ARD television channel that Germany was discussing with its allies security guarantees for Ukraine after the war, although it was clear that these “would not be the same as if someone was a member of NATO”. — Reuters