The fight for the last city in Luhansk under Ukrainian control reaches a pivotal point.

Source: : 2022-07-02 17:41:10 : Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak

WARSAW, Poland — Ukraine appeared to be pulling some troops and equipment out of Lysychansk as Russia-allied forces said Saturday that they had advanced to the center of the strategic city in eastern Ukraine after days of heavy fighting, according to Russian state media and interviews with Ukrainian troops.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s National Guard told local television channels that fierce fighting was underway but that the city remained under Ukrainian control. However, a soldier who had been stationed in Lysychansk said a major military withdrawal from the area was taking place.

“In the last few days the people and the machines have pulled out to the maximum,” Sergiy, a Ukrainian soldier who had been stationed inside Lysychansk, said Saturday. He asked that his last name not be used for security reasons.

Lysychansk is the last city in Luhansk province still held by Ukraine. Its capture would not only give Moscow complete control of that resource-rich region, but would provide Moscow’s forces a base to regroup and mount offensives on cities to the southwest, notably Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut.

The Russia-backed separatists in the region told the Russian state news agency Tass on Saturday that their forces had entered the city and were advancing on the city center. Apty Alaudinov, the commander of a Chechen unit fighting for Russia, claimed in an interview with Russian state television that his troops had the city center “under control” but added that there were still several points of resistance in the city.

The claims were impossible to independently verify.

A Ukrainian tank crew that had recently rotated off the front said troops from their unit were still holding on in the city but Russian forces were slowly gaining ground.

Lysychansk, a city where 100,000 people lived before the war, has been under blistering Russian artillery fire since Russian troops took the neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk last month. The cities, which form one metropolitan area, are bisected by the Seversky Donets river.

For most of June the frontline around Lysychansk was a grinding slog of artillery duels. Russian forces made barely any headway and Ukrainian forces ceded little ground, until Russian troops broke through, taking the southeastern village of Toshkivka around June 20.

Within a matter of days, Russian forces were on the outskirts of Lysychansk, which sits on higher ground than most of the settlements around the city, and were pushing hard to seize a key refinery on its outskirts.

On Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that its forces had taken control of the local oil refinery and reached the city limits.

A video circulating on Telegram and Twitter on Saturday purported to show Russian forces and at least two civilians hoisting a Soviet flag inside Lysychansk’s city park, a recreational area that sits in the center of the city. The New York Times has not independently verified the video.

And Russian journalists were reporting from the center of Lysychansk on Saturday. One video report from the Izvestia news outlet showed the journalist in the city center; no firing was heard in the brief clip.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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