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Luhansk has been ‘liberated’, declares Russia as Ukraine forces withdraw

Area consists of half the disputed Donbas region

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Russian soldiers raise their flags after capturing the eastern village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk area. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry

Russian soldiers raise their flags after capturing the eastern village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk area. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry

Russian soldiers raise their flags after capturing the eastern village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk area. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry

Russia launched a barrage of shelling into the Donbas city of Sloviansk as it threatened to make further gains into Ukraine after announcing it had “liberated” the entire region of Luhansk.

Ukrainian forces said they had withdrawn from the city of Lysychansk last night, leaving Russia able to claim a victory in the last pocket of Luhansk, which makes up half of the Donbas.

Just a few hours after Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told Vladimir Putin he could declare victory in Luhansk, the Russian army started bombing its next target, killing at least six civilians.

But Russia also faced Ukrainian attacks inside occupied territories, and in a city within Russia’s border.

Moscow accused Ukraine of firing missiles armed with cluster bombs at residential areas across the border in the Russian city of Belgorod, killing at least three civilians. If it is confirmed, the missiles would mark an escalation of the war. However, some experts are sceptical, casting doubt over whether Ukraine has enough cluster munitions to launch at civilian targets.

The West has previously accused Russia of “false flag” attacks aimed at spreading the conflict. Russia also said that villages along the border with Ukraine in its Kursk region were also shelled.

Ukraine has not commented, but it did claim responsibility for a missile attack on a Russian army base near the city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine, which Russia had seized in March.

The ousted Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, said the attack had destroyed the Russian army base.

The Kremlin was last night celebrating its blood-drenched victory of Luhansk, after more than four months of fighting that flattened entire cities and killed thousands of soldiers.

Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the pro-Kremlin Luhansk People’s Republic, compared the Russian conquest of Luhansk with the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War.

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“Today, July 3, is a great day that will forever enter the calendar of our Fatherland as a red date,” he said. “I congratulate all of us on this new Day of Great Victory! This holiday, like back in 1945, comes also with tears in our eyes as the battles were heavy and bloody.”

The Russian army met fierce resistance in every town they tried to capture, forcing them to throw all their reserves into the fight. This was a battle that Russia couldn’t afford to lose.

Humiliated on the outskirts of Kyiv in March, when stubborn Ukrainian defence had forced supposedly one of the most powerful armies in the world to retreat, Mr Putin had ordered his commanders to regroup and refocus on capturing the Donbas. This meant concentrating all the terrifying might of the Russian army, with its massive supply of missiles and artillery, on Donbas towns.

It also meant falling back onto classic Soviet and Russian military doctrine. Since the start of April, the Russian army has parked itself outside towns in Ukrainian-held Luhansk one after the other and bombed them into oblivion. After it had levelled each town, commanders would send in infantry to fight over each street with any remaining Ukrainian soldiers.

Formerly pleasant industrial towns in Luhansk have been destroyed, hundreds of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee.

Pro-Russian forces completed their conquest of Luhansk over the weekend with the capture of Lysychansk, the region’s last Ukrainian-held town. Russian media accompanied the news of the town’s “liberation” with videos of small crowds cheering Russian soldiers driving down dirt roads.

The town lies across the Seversky Donets river from Severodonetsk, which Russian forces had captured days earlier after a battle lasting weeks in some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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