Ukraine confirms withdrawal of troops from Lysychansk

We will return to Lysychansk, says Zelensky • 'Stay in shelters!' Mykolaiv mayor tells residents • Three killed in blasts in Russia's Belgorod

Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, June 12, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH/FILE PHOTO)
Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, June 12, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH/FILE PHOTO)

Ukrainian forces have been forced to withdraw from the eastern city of Lysychansk, Kyiv's last stronghold in the Luhansk region, Ukraine's military command said on Sunday.

"The continuation of the defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw," it said in a statement on social media.

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged on Sunday the withdrawal of his their forces from Lysychansk in Donbas, but vowed to restore control over the area thanks to the army's tactics and the prospect of new, improved weaponry.

"If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points at the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in firepower, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing, that we will return," Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

Russia says it is capturing the Luhansk region in order to give it to the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People's Republic whose independence it recognized on the eve of the war.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that all of Ukraine's Luhansk region had been "liberated" by Russian and separatist forces, the defense ministry said on Sunday.

 A UKRAINIAN SOLDIER gives a situational briefing to a group of Ukrainian police personnel, Lysychansk, last week. (credit: JONATHAN SPYER) A UKRAINIAN SOLDIER gives a situational briefing to a group of Ukrainian police personnel, Lysychansk, last week. (credit: JONATHAN SPYER)

After being beaten back in its initial attempt to capture the capital Kyiv, Russia has focused its efforts on driving Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the east of the country, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia's first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

Russian media showed videos of Luhansk militia parading in Lysychansk streets waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.

"Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army," Muzychuk said.

He said the situations in the Lysychansk and Bakhmut areas, as well as in Kharkiv region, were the most difficult on the entire front line.

"The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions."

Ruslan Muzychuk, Ukraine National Guard spokesman

"The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Also, in the Sloviansk direction, the enemy is attempting assault actions," he said.

Ukraine hits Russian base in occupied Melitopol

Ukrainian forces hit a Russian base with over 30 strikes in the Russian-occupied southern city of Melitopol, the city's exiled Ukrainian mayor said on Sunday.

Russia's RIA news agency reported Ukraine had hit the area of Melitopol where the city's airport is located, but did not specify what had been hit.

There have been no casualties from the strikes by Ukrainian forces on Melitopol, a local Moscow-installed official in the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia region wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

"Shells fell on the territory of the airfield. There were no casualties," Evgeny Balitsky, head of the Russia-installed council in the Zaporizhzhia region, wrote.

He added that several private residential houses near the airfield were damaged.

At least three killed in blasts in Russia's Belgorod near Ukraine border

At least three people were killed and dozens of residential buildings damaged in the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border, the regional governor said, after reports of several blasts in the city.

At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 private houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Gladkov said earlier the "incident" was being investigated, adding, "Presumably, the air defense system worked."

At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy, Gladkov said.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine to the reports.

Belgorod, a city of nearly 400,000 some 40 km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, is the administrative center of the Belgorod region.

Mykolaiv mayor urges residents to take shelter

Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the southern region of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, reported powerful explosions in the city.

"Stay in shelters!" he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.

The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

Authorities said a missile slammed into an apartment block near Odesa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping mall was hit on Monday in the central city of Kremenchuk, leaving at least 19 dead.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strikes on Friday as "conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some sort of error or a coincidental missile strike."

In his nightly television address on Saturday, he said it would be a "very difficult path" to victory but it was necessary for Ukrainians to maintain their resolve and inflict losses on the "aggressor ... so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken."

"In many areas from the front, there is a sense of easing up, but the war is not over," he said. "Unfortunately, it is intensifying in different places and we mustn't forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at this time."

Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines meanwhile describe intense artillery barrages that have pummeled residential areas.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities leveled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov repeated Russian denials that its forces targeted civilians.

The Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its "special military operation," Russia's defense ministry said, although it was not clear if he was in Ukraine.

The inspection followed slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in east Ukraine, a focus for Moscow after it narrowed its broader war goals of toppling the government following fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialized eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia's first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

"Definitely they are trying to demoralize us. Maybe some people are affected by that, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination," said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk.

Houses 'burning down'

Russian forces seized Lysychansk's sister city Sievierodonetsk last month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war that pounded whole districts into rubble. Other settlements now face similar bombardment.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram shelling had stopped Lysychansk residents from dousing fires and added: "Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one."

Ukraine has appealed for more weapons from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned by the Russian military.

Troops on a break from the fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the embattled city open, for now, despite Russian bombardment.

"We still use the road because we have to, but it's within artillery range of the Russians," said one soldier, who usually lives in Kyiv and asked not to be named, as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.

"The Russian tactic right now is to just shell any building we could locate ourselves at. When they've destroyed it, they move on to the next one," the soldier said.

Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged into the ground in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the Donbas city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.

The missile fell in a wooded area between residential tower blocks. Police and military cordoned off an area a few meters around the missile and told onlookers to stand back. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.

Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odesa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.

Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world's biggest grain exporters and a major producer of seeds for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a surge in global grain and food prices.

Russia, also a big grain producer, denies it has caused the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for hurting its exports.