Moscow claims capture of crucial eastern Ukraine region; Turkey arrests Russian-flagged grain ship


Russia said on Sunday it had taken full control of the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk after capturing the last Ukrainian stronghold of Lysychansk, the city Kyiv said it withdrew to to save the lives of its troops.

Capturing the region, a major Russian war objective, is a political victory for the Kremlin after weeks of meteoric advances and shifts the battlefield to the neighboring region of Donetsk, where Kyiv still controls swaths of territory.

Since abandoning its assault on the capital Kyiv, Russia has focused its military operation on the industrial heartland of Donbass which includes the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Moscow-backed separatist proxies have been fighting Ukraine since 2014.

Russia said it was seizing the Luhansk region in order to give it to the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Lugansk People’s Republic, whose independence it had recognized on the eve of the war.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that Luhansk had been ‘liberated’, the Defense Ministry said, after Russia earlier said its forces had captured villages around Lysychansk and surrounded the city.

Damaged residential buildings are seen in Lysychansk, in Ukraine’s Lugansk region, early Sunday. (Luhansk Region Military Administration/Associated Press)

Ukraine’s military command said its forces had been forced to withdraw from the city.

“Continued defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of the Ukrainian defenders, a decision was taken to withdraw,” he said in a statement on social media.

Ukrainian officials, who say references to the “liberation” of Ukrainian territory are Russian propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.

“Ukrainian forces likely carried out a deliberate withdrawal from Lysychansk, resulting in the Russian capture of the city on July 2,” analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote. in an information note.

They based their assessment on footage showing Russian forces casually marching through the northern and eastern neighborhoods of Lysychansk, saying this suggested few or no Ukrainian forces remained. He said the footage included footage posted to social media and geotagged to confirm where it was filmed.

West of Lysychansk in the Donetsk region, at least six people were killed when the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk was hit by heavy shelling from multiple rocket launchers on Sunday, local officials said.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and towns razed to the ground since the Russian invasion on February 24, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of deliberately targeting civilians. Moscow denies it.

Russia says what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine is aimed at protecting Russian speakers from nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies say this is a baseless pretext for its blatant aggression aimed at seizing territory.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said on Sunday it struck military infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, where a Reuters reporter said Ukrainian forces had built fortifications after night bombardments.

Western region of Russia hit by explosions

The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine also launched missile and drone attacks on the cities of Kursk and Belgorod in western Russia, but air weapons were shot down. Roman Starovoit, regional governor of Kursk, said the town of Tetkino, on the Ukrainian border, had come under mortar fire.

Following the impact of Ukrainian missiles, the wreckage of one of them fell on a residential building in Belgorod, about 40 kilometers north of the border with Ukraine, the spokesman said of the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov.

Rescue specialists work at the site of a destroyed residential building after explosions were reported in Belgorod, Russia on Sunday. (Alexei Stopichev/BelPressa/Reuters)

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region, said four people were killed on Sunday by fragments of an intercepted missile.

The Russian Defense Ministry said two Ukrainian drones were shot down over the city of Kursk, 190 kilometers north of Belgorod.

Moscow has blamed Kyiv for numerous attacks on Belgorod and other border areas with Ukraine. Previously, Kyiv said such incidents were a reward for Russia for reducing Ukrainian urban areas to rubble.

Military base hit

Ukraine said its air force had carried out about 15 sorties “in virtually all directions of hostilities”, destroying equipment and two ammunition depots.

In the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ukrainian forces hit a military logistics base on Sunday with more than 30 strikes, the city’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said. A Russian-installed official confirmed that strikes had hit the city.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.

Russian ship carrying restrained grain

In Turkey, customs authorities have detained a Russian cargo ship carrying grain which Ukraine says was stolen, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey said on Sunday.

Ukraine had previously asked Turkey to detain the Russian-flagged freighter Zhibek Zholy, according to an official and documents seen by Reuters.

The Russian-flagged freighter Zhibek Zholy was spotted near Karasu, Turkey, on Sunday. (Mehmet Emin Caliskan/Reuters)

Reuters reporters saw the Zhibek Zholy vessel anchored about a kilometer from shore and outside Karasu port on Sunday, with no obvious signs of movement on board or by other nearby vessels.

“We are cooperating fully. The ship is currently at the entrance to the port, it has been detained by the customs authorities of Turkey,” Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar told Ukrainian national television.

Bodnar said the ship’s fate would be decided by a meeting of investigators on Monday and that Ukraine hoped for the confiscation of the grain.

Western support

Ukraine has repeatedly called for an acceleration of arms supplies to the West, saying its forces are largely under-armed.

Speaking during a visit to Kyiv, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government would provide Ukraine with additional armored vehicles, as well as tougher sanctions against Russia.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the ARD television channel that Germany was discussing with its allies security guarantees for Ukraine after the war, although it was clear that these “would not be the same as if someone was a member of NATO”.


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