Russian forces hold key Ukraine city in new setback for Kyiv
China Daily

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk on June 23, 2022. (Photo: Agencies)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday declared victory in the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk, one day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining bulwark of resistance in the province.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting on Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Lugansk, which together with the neighboring Donetsk Province makes up Ukraine's industrial heartland of Donbas.

Shoigu told Putin that "the operation" was completed on Sunday after Russian troops overran the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Lugansk.

Putin's declaration came as Russian forces tried to press their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday. Lugansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid being surrounded.

"There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement," Gaidai told The Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but would have potentially paid too high a price.

In an address late on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed Kyiv would fight on and ensure the military had "the most modern weapons".

The latest country to provide aid was Australia, after its Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Sunday pledged further military support, including armored vehicles and drones during a meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv.

On Sunday, Moscow accused Kyiv of firing three cluster missiles at the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border, which came a day after neighboring Belarus said it had intercepted Ukrainian missiles.

In what would represent an escalation of the conflict, Russia said its anti-aircraft defenses shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by "Ukrainian nationalists" against Belgorod.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 11 residential buildings and 39 houses had been damaged.

Russia has previously accused Kyiv of conducting strikes on Russian soil, particularly in the Belgorod region.

'Colossal' work

On Monday, leaders from dozens of countries and organizations were meeting in the Swiss city of Lugano, where they aim to hash out a "Marshall Plan" for Ukraine's reconstruction, which is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The plan is aimed to begin even as conflict continues to rage.

Zelensky, who was expected to take part virtually, warned on Sunday that the work ahead in the areas that have been liberated alone was "really colossal".

Ukraine will also face demands for broad reforms, especially in cracking down on corruption after Brussels recently granted Kyiv candidate status in its push to join the 27-member European Union bloc.