Russian forces are pounding the city of Lysychansk and its surroundings in an all-out attempt to seize the last stronghold of resistance in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, the governor said Saturday.
Ukrainian fighters have spent weeks trying to defend the city and to keep it from falling to Russia, as neighbouring Sievierodonetsk did a week ago.
The Russian defence ministry said its forces took control of an oil refinery on Lysychansk’s edge in recent days, but Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Friday that fighting for the facility continued.
“Over the last day, the occupiers opened fire from all available kinds of weapons,” Mr Haidai said Saturday on the Telegram messaging app.
Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the Donbas region, where Russia has focused its offensive since pulling back from the northern Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv, in the spring.
Pro-Russia separatists have held portions of both provinces since 2014, and Moscow recognises all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics.
Syria’s government said Wednesday that it would also recognise the “independence and sovereignty” of the two areas and work to establish diplomatic relations with the separatists.
In Slovyansk, a major Donetsk city still under Ukrainian control, four people died when Russian forces fired cluster munitions late Friday, mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook.
He said the neighbourhoods that were hit did not contain any potential military targets.
Elsewhere, investigators combed through the wreckage from a Russian airstrike early on Friday on residential areas near the Ukrainian port of Odesa that killed 21 people.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said three anti-ship missiles struck an apartment building in the small town of Serhiivka.
The victims of Friday’s attack also included four family members at a coastal campsite that took a hit as well, he said.
‘I emphasise – this is a deliberate direct Russian terror, and not some mistake or an accidental missile strike,” Mr Zelensky said.
The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the Russian military is targeting fuel storage sites and military facilities, not residential areas.
Ukrainian authorities interpreted the missile attack as payback for the withdrawal of Russian troops from a nearby Black Sea island with both symbolic and strategic significance in the war that started with Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow portrayed their departure from Snake Island as a “goodwill gesture” to help unblock exports of grain.