The Ukrainian army confirmed on Sunday evening July 3 its withdrawal from Lyssytchansk, a strategic city in eastern Ukraine whose capture had been claimed a few hours earlier by Moscow, which says it now controls the entire Luhansk region.

“In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, the decision was taken to withdraw” from the city, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in a statement. “Under the conditions of multiple superiority of Russian troops in artillery, air force, missile launch systems, ammunition and personnel, continuing the defense of the city would have had fatal consequences,” the statement added.

After weeks of devastating fighting, the capture of Lyssychansk, which had a pre-war population of 95,000, allows Moscow to make progress in its plan to conquer all of Donbass, an industrial basin in largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. and partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

The Russian army will thus be able to advance towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, two major cities further west, hit by rocket fire on Sunday. In the morning, the Russian Ministry of Defense, quoted by Russian news agencies, announced that the Russian army and its separatist allies had taken “complete control of Lysychansk and other nearby towns”. According to a statement, Russian Defense Minister “Sergei Shoigu informed [President Vladimir] Putin of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Luhansk”, one of the two separatist entities, along with that of Donetsk, fighting since 2014 to make Ukrainian secession.

“The city is on fire”

In his evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to put on a good face. “If the command of our army withdraws troops from certain points of the front where the enemy has the advantage of fire – and this applies in particular to Lysychansk – it means only one thing: that we will return”, he launched.

“Today [the Russians] amassed their greatest firepower in the Donbass. And they can fire tens of thousands of artillery shells a day at a section of the front. This is the reality,” the president explained. But “we are moving forward gradually, both in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, and at sea (…) A day will come when we will say the same about Donbass”, he assured.

On Sunday morning, the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhi Haidai, said of Lysychansk that “the city is on fire”. According to him, the Russian assault was much more violent than on the twin city of Sievierodonetsk, on the eastern bank of the Donets, which fell at the end of June.

Donbass bombed

A little further west, Russian strikes hit several neighborhoods in Sloviansk, according to the mayor of this city of around 100,000 inhabitants before the war, Vadym Liakh. In the evening, the Ukrainian president reported a death toll of six, including a nine-year-old girl, and “about twenty wounded”. Tetiana Ignatchenko, spokesperson for the Donetsk region, to which Sloviansk belongs, reiterated the call for residents to leave the region, while the front line is only a few kilometers from Sloviansk.

Siversk, about twenty kilometers west of Lysytchansk, could be the next battle. The Ukrainian forces seem to want to rely on a line of defense between this city and Bakhmout, in order to protect Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. “For the past week, the bombardments on the city have gradually increased, especially in recent days with heavy artillery,” first deputy mayor Ruslan Bondarevsky told Agence France Presse (AFP). In the premises of the town hall, boxes of humanitarian aid from the Red Cross were distributed to residents on Sunday.

In Kramatorsk, the administrative center of Donbass under Ukrainian control, a Smertch rocket hit a residential area without causing injuries, according to Mayor Oleksandr Gontcharenko. In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, residents were awakened again at 4 a.m. “by Russian rocket attacks”, according to the region’s governor, Oleg Sinegoubov, who also reported “shooting” in the morning in several districts.

Explosions in Belgorod, Russia

On the southern front, the Ukrainian regional command said that in 24 hours, the Russian army had carried out “nine airstrikes with K-52 helicopter gunships and two bombardments on Serpents’ Island”, resumed Wednesday by Kyiv in the northwestern Black Sea.

In Melitopol, a city occupied by Moscow forces, the Ukrainian army claimed to have “decommissioned” a Russian military base overnight from Saturday to Sunday, according to the mayor in exile of the town, Ivan Fedorov.

The Russian army, for its part, claimed to have shot down at dawn on Sunday three Ukrainian missiles launched against the Russian town of Belgorod, near the border with Ukraine, where a local official had previously announced the death of at least least four people after explosions. “After the destruction of the Ukrainian missiles, the debris of one of them fell on a house,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Moscow has repeatedly accused kyiv of hitting Russian soil, particularly in the Belgorod region.