- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
After a months-long battle over the Luhansk Oblast, Vladimir Putin instructed his troops to “press ahead” with Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” the Russian leader told Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister.
During a meeting between the pair on Monday, Putin said he had received plans from two senior generals on “how to continue the offensive operation”.
“Units that took part in active hostilities and secured a victory in the direction of Luhansk should certainly get some rest and replenish their combat capabilities,” the Russian leader added.
Hours after Moscow declared victory over Lysychansk – the final Ukrainian-held city in Luhansk – a Russian artillery barrage on Slovyansk, some 40 miles from the fallen town, killed at least six civilians and left dozens injured.
Slovyansk, where many of the Ukrainian troops previously defending Luhansk have now retreated, and neighbouring Kramatorsk stand in the way of Russia’s ultimate goal of seizing the entire Donbas.
Ukraine’s armed forces said the troops were withdrawn to preserve lives in the face of Russia’s superiority with long-range weapons and adopt stronger defensive lines, in order to mount future counter-offensives.
“In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw. Unfortunately, steel will and patriotism are not enough for success – material and technical resources are needed,” its General Staff added.
‘We’ll take our land back’
In his daily address late on Sunday, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, vowed to retake the ceded ground but said his armed forces needed “the most modern weapons” from Western allies.
“We’ll rebuild the walls, we’ll take our land back, but we must keep our people safe above all. Therefore, if our high command removes our soldiers from certain positions on the front-line where the enemy has advantage in firepower, including Lysychansk, it can only mean one thing: we will come back thanks to our tactics and increased supplies of modern weapons,” he said.
With the fall of Lysychansk, the fighting is expected to move south-west into Donetsk, with nearby Bakhmut, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk the likely targets of Moscow’s next advance.
Having been embarrassed by its failed attempt to capture Kyiv in March, the Kremlin switched its focus to the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartlands, which is made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said the weeks-long battle for Lysychansk had forced Russia to deploy extra troops that could have been used for fighting elsewhere, and given Ukraine time to fortify positions in Donetsk to make it “harder for the Russians there”.
“The Russian tactics will be the same,” he added. “They will shoot at everything with artillery, but it will be difficult for them to move forward.”
Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, the two main towns in Mr Haidai’s region, were almost entirely razed to the ground by artillery and rocket attacks during Russia’s attempts to capture them.
This prompted Tetyana Ignachenko, a spokesman for the Donetsk region, to warn civilians to flee towns on the front-line while they could to avoid the inevitable, indiscriminate bombardment by Russia’s forces.
Footage shared on a pro-Russian channel on the Telegram messaging app appeared to show Kremlin-linked Wagner Group mercenaries in captured Klynove, some 12 kilometres south-east of Bakhmut.
The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said this would suggest Russian forces are attempting to secure positions along the E40 highway between Slovyansk and Bakhmut.
Ukraine’s General Staff reported attacks on towns north of Slovyansk, but insisted Russian forces had not made any territorial gains.
In its daily intelligence update on Monday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said Russian forces would “almost certainly” switch their focus to Donetsk after capturing Lysychansk.
The briefing said the conflict in the Donbas had been “grinding and attritional”, adding: “This is highly unlikely to change in the coming weeks.”
Analysts War Mapper said on social media that Russia had managed to increase its controlled territories in Ukraine by around 1,500 square kilometres.
Over the month of June 🇷🇺 increased the area of land they control in Ukraine by approximately 1,500 km².
This equates to a total of 19.2% of Ukraine being occupied, a 0.3% increase since the end of May. pic.twitter.com/k6FNQp1ZTE
— Ukraine War Map (@War_Mapper) July 1, 2022
Rochan Consulting, a defence analysis firm, said that over the past week Russians had captured 390 square kilometres of territory in Ukraine.
Elsewhere, Ukraine raised a flag once again on the reclaimed Snake Island after Russia last week withdrew from the strategic Black Sea outpost, a military spokesman said on Monday.