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France 24
France 24

Russia claims control of eastern province as Ukrainian forces retreat from Lysychansk

A Ukrainian arrmoured personnel carrier is seen on a road while smoke rises over the oil refinery outside the eastern city of Lysychansk on June 23, 2022. © Anatolii Stepanov, AFP

Russia’s defence ministry said Sunday that Moscow’s forces have achieved the “liberation” of the eastern Luhansk province and taken “full control” of the city of Lysychansk. The mayor of Sloviansk in Ukraine’s neighbouring Donetsk province said it was hit by shelling on Sunday, and that “many” people were dead and wounded. Read our live blog below to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time, GMT+2.

10:10pm: Zelensky vows Ukraine forces will return to Lysychansk

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk in Donbas, but vowed to restore control over the area thanks to the army's tactics and the prospect of new, improved weaponry.

"If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points at the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in fire power, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing," Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

"That we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons."

6:29pm: Ukraine confirms withdrawal of its forces from Lysychansk

Ukrainian forces have been forced to withdraw from the eastern city of Lysychansk, Kyiv's last stronghold in the Luhansk region, Ukraine's military command said on Sunday.

"The continuation of the defence of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw," it said in a statement on social media.

5:37pm: Australian PM pledges military aid on Kyiv visit

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Sunday pledged further military support to Ukraine, including armoured vehicles and drones, while meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. 

Making the first-ever visit to Ukraine by an Australian premier, Albanese said at a news conference that his country would give Ukraine "a hundred million dollars of military support", without specifying if he meant Australian dollars. (The figure would amount to $68 million). 

Albanese specified that Australia would provide extra military equipment requested by Ukraine including 14 armoured personnel carriers, 20 Bushmaster armoured vehicles and a number of drones. 

Zelensky said that Australia was giving Ukraine "considerable aid, in particular defence support" and that Ukrainian forces "highly valued" the Bushmaster vehicle.

Albanese toured the towns of Bucha and Irpin, where Russian forces are alleged to have committed war crimes, as well as the airport at Hostomel northwest of Kyiv. 

"It is my great honour to be the first Australian prime minister to visit Ukraine," he said, adding that his trip "would show very clearly to the world the solidarity that exists between the Australian people and the people of Ukraine". 

Albanese came to Ukraine after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Friday.

4:43pm: Scores of Russian diplomats set to depart Bulgaria amid soaring tensions

Two Russian airplanes were set to depart Bulgaria on Sunday with scores of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has sent tensions soaring between the historically close nations, a Russian diplomat said.

Filip Voskresenski, a high-ranking Russian diplomat, told journalists at the airport in Bulgaria's capital Sofia he was among the 70 Russian diplomatic staff declared “persona non grata” last week and ordered to leave the country before Monday. 

Bulgaria's expulsion decision was announced by acting Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who took a strong stance against Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

3:50pm: Russian ship carrying stolen grain detained by Turkish customs, Kyiv's ambassador to Turkey says

Turkish customs authorities have detained a Russian cargo ship carrying grain which Ukraine says is stolen, Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey said on Sunday.

"We have full cooperation. The ship is currently standing at the entrance to the port, it has been detained by the customs authorities of Turkey," Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar said on Ukrainian national television.

Bodnar said that the ship's fate would be decided by a meeting of investigators on Monday.

2:05pm: Shelling hits eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, 'many killed' says mayor

The eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk was hit by powerful shelling from multiple rocket launchers on Sunday and many people were killed and wounded, the city's Mayor Vadim Lyakh said.

"There are 15 fires. Many killed and wounded," Lyakh wrote on Telegram. He said it was the most powerful recent shelling of the city.

1:37pm: Russia accuses Kyiv of firing missiles at Belgorod

Russia accused Kyiv on Sunday of firing three missiles at the city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border in strikes that killed at least four people.

“Russian anti-aircraft defences shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by Ukrainian nationalists against Belgorod,” said Russia’s defence ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov.

“After the destruction of the Ukrainian missiles, the debris of one of them fell on a house”.

Konashenkov said that the Russian army had also shot down two Ukrainian TU-143 drones “loaded with explosives” that had been heading towards the city of Kursk, also close to the Ukrainian border.

Earlier, the governor of Belgorod, Vyachelsav Gladkov, had said that at least four people were killed and four injured in a series of “strong explosions” that rocked the city in the early hours of Sunday.

Eleven residential buildings and 39 houses were damaged in the explosions which occurred in the early hours, he said on Telegram.

Freelance correspondent Daniel Hawkins spoke to FRANCE 24's Erin Ogunkeye from Moscow on Sunday afternoon to tell us more.

12:27pm: Russia claims 'full control' of Lysychansk, and 'liberation' of Luhansk province

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Sunday that Moscow’s forces have taken the strategic Ukrainian city of Lysychansk and now control the entire Luhansk province, which has been the target of fierce battles in recent weeks.

“Sergei Shoigu has informed the commander in chief of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin, of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Luhansk,” the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.

Russian forces and their Moscow-backed separatist allies have taken “full control of Lysychansk and other nearby towns, notably Belogorovka, Novodruzhesk, Maloryazantseve and Bila Hora”, the statement said.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine on the Russian claim, which, if confirmed, would mark a significant milestone for Moscow on day 130 of the war.

AFP was unable to verify the information from independent sources.

A few minutes prior to the announcement, a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry had said that fighting was ongoing in Lysychansk and that Ukrainian forces were “completely” surrounded.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram on Sunday that “the Russians are reinforcing their positions in the Lysychansk region. The city is on fire.”

9:51am: Ukraine strikes base in Russian-occupied Melitopol

Ukrainian forces hit a military base in the Russian-occupied southern Ukraine city of Melitopol with more than 30 strikes on Sunday, the city’s exiled mayor said in a video address on Telegram.

The base had been “taken out of action”, Ivan Fedorov said.

A Moscow-installed official said several private residential houses near the airfield were damaged.

“Shells fell on the territory of the airfield. There were no casualties,” Evgeny Balitsky, head of the Russia-installed council in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, wrote on Telegram.

Reuters could not immediately verify the accounts.

11:56am: Germany discussing Ukraine security guarantees with allies says Scholz

Germany is discussing security guarantees for Ukraine with its allies, in preparation for a time after the war in Ukraine, German Chancellor Scholz told broadcaster ARD on Sunday. "We are discussing with close friends the question of the security guarantees we can give. This is an ongoing process. It is clear that it will not be the same as if someone were a member of NATO," Scholz said.

"It is quite clear that this is a matter which is being carefully prepared in the diplomatic sphere, for the day we hope to see soon, when the war is over," he added.

6:53am: Blasts kill three in Russian city of Belgorod near Ukrainian border

At least three people were killed and dozens of homes damaged in the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border, the regional governor said on Sunday.

Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported a number of blasts in the city of nearly 400,000 some 40 kilometres north of the border with Ukraine.

At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Gladkov said on the Telegram messaging app.

Senior Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas accused Ukraine of shelling Belgorod and called for a military response.

“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod are a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine and require the most severe – including a military – response,” Klishas wrote on Telegram.

There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine and Reuters could not independently verify the Russian accounts.

3:22am: Zelensky adviser concedes key bastion could fall in eastern Ukraine

Fighting for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last big bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, has intensified this weekend and an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky conceded the city could fall.

Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city Severodonetsk on the opposite side of the Siverskiy Donets river last month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

Zelensky adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russian forces had finally crossed the Siverskiy Donets river and were approaching Lysychansk from the north.

“This is indeed a threat. We shall see. I do not rule out any one of a number of outcomes here. Things will become much more clear within a day or two,” he said.

“If Lysychansk is taken, strategically it becomes more difficult for the Russians to continue their offensive. The front lines will be flatter and there will be a frontal attack rather than from the flanks.”

He said Russian forces would have to focus on taking six major cities in the industrialised eastern Donbas region and with each their forces would be more and more thinly spread.

“The more Western weapons come to the front, the more the picture changes in favour of Ukraine,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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