Fighting erupted on Saturday for Ukraine’s strategic Lisichansk, as Kyiv denied claims by Moscow-backed separatists that they had besieged the eastern city.
The conflict intensifies in Lisichansk, the last major city in the Lugansk region of the Donbass, still in Ukrainian hands, located across the river from neighboring Severodonetsk, seized by Russia last week. The capture of the city would allow Russian forces to push deeper into the battlefield Donbass region, which has become the focus of their offensive since the invasion failed to capture Kyiv in late February.
Ukraine’s National Guard spokesman Ruslan Mujitchuk said on Ukrainian television: “The fighting around Lisichansk… the city has not been cordoned off and is under Ukrainian military control.”
Earlier in the day, Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the separatist forces, told TASS News agency: “Lisichansk is completely besieged.”
The announcements come as missiles continue to rain across Ukraine, killing dozens. A neighbor reported that rockets hit residential properties in Solvinsk, in the heart of the Donbass, killing a woman in her garden and injuring her husband. AFP Describing the debris that rained all over the locality on Saturday.
Eyewitnesses said Friday’s strike was thought to use cluster weapons that had spread over a large area before the explosion, attacking buildings and people outside.
On Friday, 21 people were killed and dozens injured in an attack on a southern resort town after missiles hit flats and a recreation center in Sergivka, 80 km south of the Black Sea port Odessa.
The attacks came after Moscow abandoned positions on a strategic island in a major setback for the Kremlin’s invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation late Friday that a 12-year-old child was among the victims of the Sergievka attacks.
“I emphasize: this is a deliberate, purposeful act of Russian terror,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine’s chief diplomat Dimitro Kuleba said on Saturday he had discussed the seventh round of European sanctions against Russia with his EU opposite number Joseph Borrell. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine “Suffering heavy losses on all fronts”, what he said was listed as military targets across the country were hit by artillery and missiles.
The attacks followed global outrage earlier this week when Russia’s attack destroyed a shopping center in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing at least 21 civilians, according to the mayor. President Vladimir Putin has denied that his military was responsible for that attack and Moscow did not immediately comment on the Odessa attacks.
Earlier on Friday, Zelensky hailed a new chapter in its relationship with the European Union, after Brussels recently granted Ukraine candidate status in Kyiv’s push to join the 27-member bloc, even though Only membership is years away.
“Our journey to membership should not take decades. We must make it to this road quickly,” Zelensky told Ukraine’s parliament.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said membership was “within reach”, but urged her to work on anti-corruption reforms.
Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, on Friday announced $1 billion in aid for Kyiv, including reconstruction and weapons. And the Pentagon said it is sending a new $820 million armament package, which includes more ammunition for two air defense systems and precision rocket launchers.
In a decision that further cooled ties between Kyiv and Moscow, the UN cultural agency inscribed Ukraine’s borscht soup cooking tradition on its list of endangered cultural heritage. Ukraine regards the nutritious soup, usually made with beetroot, as a national dish, although it is also widely consumed in Russia, other ex-Soviet countries, and Poland.
UNESCO said the decision was approved after a fast-track process inspired by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “We will win both in Borsch and in this war,” Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said on Telegram.
‘Grain will dry up’
On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war, and sits near a shipping lane near the port of Odessa. The Russian Defense Ministry described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill”, meant to demonstrate that Moscow would not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
But on Friday evening, Kyiv accused Moscow of carrying out attacks on the rocky outpost using incendiary phosphorus weapons. During the daily update, Russia’s Defense Ministry did not comment on the alleged use of phosphorus.
In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia’s invasion has damaged agricultural land and seen Ukraine’s ports confiscated, demolished or blocked – especially concerns about food shortages in poorer countries.
Farmer Sergei Lyubersky, whose farm is close to the front line 30km west of Lisichansk, warned that time was running out for this year’s crop to be harvested.
“We can wait till August 10 at the latest, but after that, the grain will dry up and fall on the ground,” he said.
Western powers have accused Putin of using the cropped crop as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.