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Russia Claims Capture of Ukraine City  07/03 08:38

   Russia's defense minister said Russian forces took control Sunday of the 
last major Ukrainian-held city in Ukraine's Luhansk province, bringing Moscow 
closer to its stated goal of seizing all of Ukraine's Donbas region.

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia's defense minister said Russian forces took 
control Sunday of the last major Ukrainian-held city in Ukraine's Luhansk 
province, bringing Moscow closer to its stated goal of seizing all of Ukraine's 
Donbas region.

   Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Russia's 
troops together with members of a local separatist militia "have established 
full control over the city of Lysychansk," a ministry statement said.

   Taking Lysychansk constitutes "the liberation of the Luhansk People's 
Republic," one of two separatist regions in Ukraine that Russia recognizes as 
sovereign, the statement said.

   Ukrainian fighters spent weeks trying to defend Lysychansk and to keep it 
from falling to Russia, as neighboring Sievierodonetsk did a week ago. A 
presidential adviser predicted late Saturday that the city's fate could be 
determined within days.

   Ukrainian officials did not immediately provide an update on its status.

   Earlier Sunday, Luhansk's governor said Russian forces were strengthening 
their positions in a grueling fight to capture the last stronghold of 
resistance in the province.

   "The occupiers threw all their forces on Lysychansk. They attacked the city 
with incomprehensibly cruel tactics," Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on 
the Telegram messaging app. "They suffer significant losses, but stubbornly 
advance. They are gaining a foothold in the city."

   A river separates Lysychansk from Sievierodonetsk. Oleksiy Arestovych, an 
adviser to the Ukrainian president, said during an online interview late 
Saturday that Russian forces had managed for the first time to cross the river 
from the north, creating a "threatening" situation.

   Arestovych said they had not reached the center of the city but that the 
course of the fighting indicated the battle for Lysychansk would be decided by 
Monday.

   Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the 
Donbas, where Russia has focused its offensive since pulling back from northern 
Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv, in the spring.

   Pro-Russia separatists have held portions of both eastern provinces since 
2014, and Moscow recognizes all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics. 
Syria's government said Wednesday that it would also recognize the 
"independence and sovereignty" of the two areas.

   An occupation of Lysychansk would open the way for the Russians to move west 
into Donetsk province, where the sizable Ukrainian-held city of Slovyansk has 
come under rocket attacks several times since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 
24. Mayor Vadym Lyakh said new attacks Sunday killed an unspecified number of 
people.

   Elsewhere in the war, the exiled mayor of the Russia-occupied city of 
Melitopol said Sunday that Ukrainian rockets destroyed one of four Russian 
military bases in the city.

   The governor of the Belgorod region in western Russia said four people were 
killed Sunday by fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile. The Russian 
Defense Ministry said two Ukrainian drones were shot down over the city of 
Kursk.

   Kursk regional governor Roman Starovoit said the town of Tetkino, on the 
Ukraine border, came under mortar fire.

   The leader of neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed Saturday that 
Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory several days 
ago but all were intercepted by an air defense system. President Alexander 
Lukashenko described the alleged strike as a provocation and noted that no 
Belarusian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine.

   There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian military.

   Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground for 
Russia's invasion. Last week, just hours before Lukashenko was to meet with 
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles on 
Ukraine from Belarusian airspace for the first time.

   Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to draw his army into the war. But 
during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus 
with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko that his government 
depends on economic support from Russia.

 
 
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