- Ukrainians move from Bagmut to Slovenians holding line
- The Battle of Luhansk was one of Europe’s largest in generations
- Putin congratulated the victorious soldiers
KYIV, July 4 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday his armed forces were not relenting in efforts to “break” Moscow’s will to continue the nearly five-month-old war, while Russia’s Vladimir Putin hailed his army’s victory in a fierce battle. Luhansk.
Russia captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysizansk on Sunday, ending one of Europe’s biggest wars in generations and completing its conquest of Luhansk province, one of two regions in the Donbass region that have demanded Ukraine cede it to separatists.
As the war enters its next phase, Ukrainian forces have taken up new defensive lines in the eastern part of the country.
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“There have been no significant changes on the battlefield in the last 24 hours,” Zelensky said in a nightly video message. “Ukraine’s armed forces are retaliating, pushing back and destroying the offensive capabilities of the aggressors day after day. We must break them. This is a difficult task. It requires time and inhumane efforts. But we have no alternative.”
Earlier, Putin congratulated the Russian forces for their “victory in the Luhansk direction”. Participants in that war “must completely rest and restore their military readiness,” while units in other areas continue to fight, the Russian president said in a brief televised meeting with his defense minister.
The battle for Luhansk has come close to Moscow achieving one of its stated objectives since its failed attempt to capture Kiev in March. It was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the southern port of Mariupol in late May.
At the bend of the Chivarsky Donets River, which passes through Luhansk and Donetsk, both sides inflicted much greater losses on both sides, killing and wounding thousands.
Incessant Russian bombardment left Lysizansk a desolate wasteland, neighboring Severodonetsk and surrounding towns, many of which contained heavy industrial plants that defenders used as fortified bunkers. Russia tried and failed several times to encircle the Ukrainians, eventually blasting them with artillery.
Although the destroyed cities have little strategic value, military experts said the battle could be a turning point in the war, with a major impact on the fighting ability of both sides.
“I think it’s a tactical victory for Russia, but at an enormous cost,” said Neil Melvin of the London-based RUSI think tank. He compared the war to the great battles for trivial territorial gains that characterized the First World War.
“It took 60 days to progress very slowly,” he said. “I think the Russians may declare some sort of victory, but the main battle is yet to come.”
Moscow hopes Ukraine’s withdrawal will provide momentum to push Russian forces further west into neighboring Donetsk province.
‘It hurts a lot’
Ukraine could have withdrawn from Luhansk weeks ago, but chose to continue fighting to expel the invading force. A ferocious war would hopefully leave the Russians too depleted to hold onto gains elsewhere.
Serhii Keitai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, acknowledged that his entire province was now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters: “We have to win the war, not the battle for Lysizansk … It hurts a lot, but it’s not lost. The war.”
Keidai said that Ukrainian forces that had retreated from Lysizansk were now holding the line between Pakmut and Sloviansk, preparing to block further Russian advances.
Heavy shelling on Sunday killed at least six people, including a 10-year-old girl, the mayor of Sloviansk said. read more
Russia’s Tass news agency, citing military officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic, said shelling by Ukrainian forces killed three civilians and wounded 27 others.
Reuters could not verify Battlefield accounts.
Rob Lee of the US-based Institute for Foreign Policy Research said the new Ukrainian defense line should be easier to defend than the abandoned pocket in Luhansk province.
“This is something that Putin can show as a sign of victory,” he said. “But overall, this does not mean that Ukraine will concede or give in any time soon.”
Russia has said its “special military operation” in Ukraine is to militarize its southern neighbor and protect Russian-speakers from so-called nationalists.
Ukraine and its Western allies say it is a baseless pretext for a blatant aggression aimed at seizing territory.
Zelensky said rebuilding Ukraine’s shattered infrastructure would require “huge” funds.
Speaking at a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmykal said the cost could reach $750 billion and that wealthy Russians would have to help foot the bill. read more
RUSI expert Melvin said a decisive battle for Ukraine is unlikely to take place in the east, where Russia is intensifying its main offensive, but in the south, where it has launched a counteroffensive to recapture Ukrainian territory.
“This is where we see the Ukrainians advancing around Kherson. That’s where the counterattacks start, and I think we’ll see the momentum swing to Ukraine as they try to launch a large-scale counteroffensive to push the Russians back,” he said.
Ukraine hopes, in part, to get additional weapons from the West, including rockets that can neutralize Russia’s huge firepower advantage, to strike deep behind the front lines.
Last week, Ukraine scored its own major victory, driving Russian forces from Snake Island, a desolate but strategic area in the Black Sea that Moscow captured on the first day of the war but can no longer defend against Ukrainian strikes.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersen said the best way to end the war was to increase support for Ukraine and increase pressure on Russia. “We are ready for more sanctions” on Russia, Anderson said at a news conference with Zelenskiy earlier on Monday, adding that Moscow must not be allowed to profit from its invasion.
Sweden, along with its neighbor Finland, recently applied for membership in NATO. Anderson said it could take a year for his country to become a full member of the alliance.
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Report by Reuters Bureau; Additional reporting by Oleksandr Kolukar; By Michael Perry, Peter Graf and Paul Simao; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Alison Williams and David Gregorio
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