Russian forces stepped up their attack on Ukraine’s Donetsk region on July 3, bombarding the key city of Sloviansk after claiming earlier in the day that they had taken all of the territory in neighboring Luhansk region.
Sloviansk Mayor Vadim Lyakh reported in a Facebook post that his city had been hit by “bombardments from multiple rocket launchers…the heaviest in a long time”.
“There are 15 fires. Many dead and injured,” he added.
After failing to take the capital, Kyiv, Russia revised its military focus on eastern Ukraine with the aim of capturing the Donbass, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
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Sloviansk, which had a population of about 107,000 before the war, has long been at the center of Moscow’s territorial ambitions in the Donetsk region. He was captured by Russian-backed separatists in April 2014, but recaptured by Ukrainian forces three months later.
Parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions have been under the control of pro-Russian separatists since 2014, when Russia also invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, a move not recognized by the rest of the world.
Early on July 3, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the Russian army had taken all territory in Ukraine’s Lugansk region, the Russian Defense Ministry said, according to TASS.
Russian state media quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying, “Russian troops… are fighting inside Lysychansk, completing the defeat of the encircled enemy.
Late on July 3, the Ukrainian military command acknowledged that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk, saying they had decided to withdraw.
Faced with the “multiple advantages of the Russian occupation troops in artillery, aviation, multiple rocket launcher systems, ammunition and personnel, the continued defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences”.
“In order to save the lives of the Ukrainian defenders, it was decided to withdraw,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his nightly national address, also confirmed the withdrawal from Lysychansk but vowed that his forces would eventually return to the territory.
“If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points of the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in firepower, and this also applies to Lysychansk, this means only one thing: that we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increased supply of modern weapons,” he said.
Russian troops have bombarded Lysychansk with rocket and missile attacks for the past few days, and the latest fighting comes a week after the fall of its sister city, Syevyerodonetsk, just across the Siverskiy Donets river. This city had been reduced to rubble by Russian forces before the takeover.
Also on July 3, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine near the city of Kharkiv, said at least three people had been killed and many buildings damaged overnight in the regional capital in what a senior Russian lawmaker called “a direct act of aggression.” from Ukraine.
In a July 3 Telegram message, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported numerous explosions in Belgorod, a city of some 400,000 people about 40 kilometers north of the border with Ukraine. He said at least 11 apartment buildings and 39 single-family homes were damaged or destroyed in the incident overnight.
At least four people, including a 10-year-old child, were injured, Gladkov said.
Russian Federation Council lawmaker Andrei Klishas directly blamed Ukraine for the alleged incident.
“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod is a direct act of aggression by Ukraine and requires the harshest response, including military,” Klishas wrote on Telegram.
The claims by Russian officials could not be independently verified and Ukraine made no immediate response. Videos published on social media supposed to show explosions and fires in the city.
On the same day, the governor of the neighboring Russian region of Kursk, which also borders Ukraine, wrote on Telegram that “our air defenses shot down two Ukrainian Strizh drones” during the night, adding that there was no had casualties in the incident. Unverifiable video posted on social media purporting to show a large plume of smoke near the city of Kursk.
Numerous fires and explosions have been reported in Belgorod and other areas since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but Kyiv has not claimed any of them.
Belgorod’s report comes as the Russian military has stepped up missile attacks across Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed and millions displaced since the war began, although Russian officials have denied targeting civilians.
On July 3, Ukraine claimed to have carried out dozens of missile strikes against a Russian military base in the occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine. Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov posted on Telegram from Ukrainian-held territory that the base had been “decommissioned”. He added that partisan action derailed a Russian military train carrying munitions outside Melitopol on July 2.
Russian media quoted a Russian-appointed local occupation official as saying that two missile strikes were recorded in the city overnight and there were no casualties.