Ukraine’s eastern city of Lysychansk is now the center of competing claims, with both Ukraine and Russia claiming to be in control of it. Lysychansk was the last major city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk Oblast before the contradicting statements appeared.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on July 3 that Russian forces had taken full control of Lysychansk after weeks of heavy fighting.
However, Communications Director of Luhansk Oblast Administration Albina Kusheleva told the Kyiv Independent on the same day that Ukraine still controls the fiercely contested city.
Kusheleva declined to comment on the percentage of the city’s territory still under Ukraine’s control but confirmed that the Ukrainian military only controls “one part” of Lysychansk, an area towards Zolotarivka in the western part of the city.
Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine's Defense Minister, has also confirmed that Russian troops have not taken the whole city in an interview with BBC.
Ukraine’s military did not mention the situation in Lysychansk in its morning briefing on July 3, but earlier denied reports of its troops being encircled in Lysychansk, insisting that there is still intense fighting in the city.
Still, the situation may be dire. Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, said on July 2 that Lysychansk could fall as fighting raged in the city.
Capturing Lysychansk will bring Moscow extremely close to taking full control of Luhansk Oblast. Russia currently controls an estimated 95% of Luhansk Oblast and about half of Donetsk Oblast, both of which are the administrative regions that comprise Donbas.
Kusheleva also estimated that about 15,000 civilians remain in Lysychansk, hiding in basements and bomb shelters as civilian evacuation is currently “impossible.”
Other reports suggest Ukrainian troops have left the city. The Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on July 2 that Ukrainian forces have likely deliberately withdrawn from Lysychansk, allowing Russian forces to seize it.
The report cites geolocated footage showing Russian soldiers casually walking around northern and southeastern neighborhoods in Lysychansk as if there are either a few or no Ukrainian troops in the city.
Russian proxy in Luhansk Oblast Rodion Miroshnik has previously claimed that Ukrainian troops began withdrawing from Lysychansk as early as June 28. He later said that its forces seized control of Lysychansk.
BBC earlier reported that Russian-backed militants said that they had successfully entered the city and reached its center, with Russian media showing videos of Russian forces apparently parading through the streets.
Russian sources have also tweeted a video of the Soviet flag allegedly being hung up on the city’s ruined administrative center. The Kyiv Independent could not verify the authenticity of the video.
The ISW report said that Russian forces will likely establish control over the remaining territory of Luhansk Oblast “in the coming days,” after which they will likely shift their focus on capturing more land in Donetsk Oblast.
Increasingly critical situation
As Russian forces continue firing an endless barrage of artillery from several fronts and blocking the city from the south, calls have been increasing for the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Lysychansk.
The ISW’s report of the fall of Lysychansk comes nearly a week after Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian forces had seized another major city in the oblast, Sievierodonetsk, on June 25. Another Ukrainian official later revealed that soldiers began retreating from Sievierodonetsk days before Haidai’s announcement but it was not publicly revealed due to security concerns.
As Russia’s war increasingly turns into one of attrition, Russia has reduced cities to rubble and continues to make incremental gains in the Donbas.
In a Telegram post on July 3, Haidai said that Russian forces are advancing deeper into Lysychansk while also having completely destroyed some government buildings.
“The occupiers probably threw all of their forces on Lysychansk,” Haidai said. “They attacked the city with incomprehensibly cruel tactics.”
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