Fighting has intensified for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, while blasts shook a southern city after the civilian toll from Russian attacks climbed in towns well behind the front lines.
Andrei Marochko, an officer of the pro-Russian Luhansk People’s Militia, was quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency on Saturday as saying that the militia’s red hammer-and-sickle flag was now flying over the administrative building in Lysychansk, although Ukraine’s military rejected claims that the city was encircled.
Russian media showed videos of Luhansk militia parading in the streets of Lysychansk waving flags, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.
“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.
He said the situations in the Lysychansk and Bakhmut areas, as well as in Kharkiv region, were the most difficult on the entire front line.
“The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Also, in the Sloviansk direction, the enemy is attempting assault actions,” he said.
Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the southern region of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, reported powerful explosions in the city.
“Stay in shelters!” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area.
The Reuters news agency could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Ukrainian media quoted Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, as saying that the Russian claims to have surrounded Lysychansk were a lie aimed at demoralizing Ukrainians and encouraging pro-Russian forces.
Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian soldiers on the eastern front lines meanwhile describe intense crude barrages that have pummeled residential areas.
Lukashenko says Ukraine fired missiles on Belarus
Meanwhile, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday accused Ukraine of “provoking” neighbor Belarus, saying his army intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian forces “around three days ago”.
The claim came one week after Ukraine said missiles struck a border region from Belarus, a long-term Russian ally that supported the February 24 invasion.
Lukashenko on Saturday denied his country was seeking to intervene in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but issued a warning aimed at Kyiv and its Western allies.
“As I said more than a year ago, we do not intend to fight in Ukraine,” he said.
“We will only fight in one case. If you … enter our land, if you kill our people, then we will respond,” he added, warning that Belarus would reply “instantly” to an enemy attack on its soil.
Russian troops crossed the Belarusian border into Ukraine as they tried and failed to take the capital Kyiv.
Lukashenko is heavily dependent on Russia militarily and economically and relied on his neighbor’s support to stabilize his position when widespread protests broke out in 2020 after an election the Belarusian opposition say he stole.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week that Moscow would deliver Iskander-M capabilities capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Belarus “in the coming months”.
“Less than a month ago, I ordered our armed forces to put in our sights the decision centers in your capitals,” Lukashenko said on Saturday, citing the missiles promised by Putin and the Belarusian missile-launcher Polonez.