Heavy fighting raged on Saturday in Lysychansk, a major city in eastern Ukraine, at the heart of the struggle for control of Donbass, while Belarus claimed it shot down rockets fired by Ukraine and threatened future revenge.
• Also read: “We have to live”: near the front in Ukraine, life goes on despite the threat
• Also read: Pro-Russian separatists say they have surrounded Lysychansk, Ukraine
• Also read: Kyiv denounces “Russian terror” after deadly attacks
In the Donbass, a largely Russian-speaking industrial region in eastern Ukraine that has been partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and that wants to conquer Moscow, the information from Lysytchansk was contradictory.
“Fighting is raging (…) Fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Rouslan Mouzytchouk, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, assured on television during the day.
The Moscow-backed separatists, quoted by the TASS news agency, have previously claimed the city was “completely surrounded”.
Lysychansk is the last major city not in Russian hands in the Lugansk region, one of the two Donbass provinces and “the epicenter of the fighting,” as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday evening.
The city, which had a population of nearly 100,000 before the war, is the twin city of Severodonetsk, which was captured by Moscow last week after Ukrainian forces withdrew after several weeks of fighting. The two cities are separated by the Donets, the main tributary of the Don.
The capture of Lysytchansk would allow the Russian army to advance toward Sloviansk, some sixty kilometers west, which is already under Russian artillery shelling, and Kramatorsk, another large Donbass city whose residents endure the din of daily bombardments and warning sirens.
On Saturday morning, Ukraine’s general staff claimed to have repelled a Russian offensive a few kilometers west of Lysytchansk, while Volodymyr Zelenskyy admitted the day before that the situation on the ground remained “extremely difficult” for Ukrainian forces.
In Sloviansk, which has been under rocket fire day and night hitting residential areas for at least a week, at least four civilians have been killed and twelve wounded since Friday morning, according to Donetsk Region Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
A rocket attack on Friday evening hit houses in particular, killing a woman and injuring her husband, a neighbor told an AFP journalist on Saturday, showing the damage to buildings in the neighborhood.
The city’s mayor, Vadym Liakh, accused Russian forces of using cluster munitions, which is banned by international treaties to which Moscow is not a party.
Further north, in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, “in the morning […] was particularly tumultuous, ”said regional governor Oleg Sinegoubov, according to which rockets hit a district without causing casualties.
“Hostile activity in the Kharkiv region is increasing,” the Ukrainian president said on Saturday evening.
Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said the Russian air force had attacked the local Kharkiv tractor factory, which houses Ukrainian troops and military equipment.
Generally speaking, Mr. Konashenkov assured, “the enemy is suffering heavy casualties on all fronts.”
On the southern front, the Russian army hit 39 command centers and two ammunition depots near Mykolaiv with artillery fire or airstrikes, according to Konashenkov.
“Around 4:30 a.m., the Russians began firing rockets at the city. After this attack, industrial facilities were damaged,” the city’s mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said in a message on Telegram, specifying that “the majority of rockets fell in the suburbs,” with a photo of the damage that appears to be fairly light . .
On Friday evening Zelenskyy accused Moscow of “using terror […] intentionally”, after strikes on Serguiïvka, on the edge of the Black Sea, on “a large building” and “a tourist complex”. The place is about 80 km southwest of Odessa in southern Ukraine.
At least 21 people were killed, including a 12-year-old boy, and 38 were injured, including five children, according to Ukrainian military and civilian authorities.
In neighboring Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko said that “about three days ago, maybe more, we tried to hit military targets in Belarus from Ukraine.”
“Thank God, our Pantsir anti-aircraft systems intercepted all missiles fired by Ukrainian forces,” he added, fueling speculation about a growing involvement of this Moscow ally in the conflict with Ukraine.
Belarus has served as a base for Russian forces since the Kremlin attack on Ukraine on February 24.
“We are being provoked,” he said, threatening to “react immediately” to any enemy attack on Belarus’ territory,” a message apparently intended for Kyiv and Westerners.
“Less than a month ago, I gave orders to our armed forces to keep an eye on the decision centers in your capitals, as we are now saying,” he affirmed, also referring to the missiles promised by Mr. Putin, the Belarusian Polonez missile launcher system.
In his evening speech “2610” Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned towns and villages “under Russian occupation”. But since the war began on February 24, the Ukrainian army “succeeded in liberating 1027,” he assured.
“Hundreds were completely destroyed by the Russian army and need to be completely rebuilt,” he added, while the issue of the country’s reconstruction will be the focus of the Ukraine conference in Lugano, Switzerland, on Monday and Tuesday.
“It is necessary not only to rebuild everything that the occupiers destroyed, but also to lay new foundations for our life, for a safe, modern Ukraine (…),” he said, aware of the “colossal investments” and necessary “reforms “. “.