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Putin Declares Victory in Ukraine’s Luhansk Province

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In this handout photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service July 4, 2022, a man sets a Russian national flag on a balcony of a residential building in Lysychansk, Luhansk province, eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory Monday in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk province as Ukrainian troops retreated from their last stronghold in the city of Lysychansk.

Moscow's forces immediately turned their attention to fighting in the adjoining Donetsk province. It is part of the industrialized Donbas region Putin has sought to take control of during his invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month, after failing earlier to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv.

Ukraine said Russian forces are now trying to advance on Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk. In turn, Putin said that the military units "that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory" in Luhansk, "should rest, increase their combat capabilities."

Ukraine's Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, told The Associated Press on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from Lysychansk to avoid being surrounded.

"There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement," Haidai said, explaining that Ukrainian troops could have remained a while longer but would have potentially sustained too many casualties.

"We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured," Haidai said. "We took back all the equipment, so from this point, withdrawal was organized well."

Haidai told the Reuters news agency that there was nothing critical in losing Lysychansk, and that Ukraine needed to win the overall war, not the fight for the city.

"It hurts a lot, but it's not losing the war," he said Monday.

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces, aside from pushing toward Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut, are also shelling the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

Ukrainian authorities said that on Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian attack on Sloviansk, and another 19 people were wounded. Kramatorsk was also shelled Sunday.

The British Defense Ministry intelligence briefing Monday called the conflict in Donbas "grinding and attritional" and said it is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

The Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, military analysts say, but not any significant superiority in the number of troops. Ukraine is hoping to counter the Russian onslaught in Donbas with the ongoing resupply of munitions from Western nations, including the United States.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Monday that his country needs economic aid to start rebuilding, even as fighting continues.

"The restoration of Ukraine is not only about what needs to be done later after our victory, but also about what needs to be done right now. And we must do this together with our partners, with the entire democratic world," he said.

Earlier Monday, Zelenskyy spoke via video at a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, focusing on what it will take to rebuild Ukraine.

"Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation," he said.

"It is a common task of the whole democratic world."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told the two-day conference, which began Monday, that Ukraine's recovery was "already estimated at $750 billion."

The conference brings together leaders from dozens of countries as well as international organizations and the private sector.

Also Monday, Zelenskyy met with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who traveled to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine.

Bach vowed that the Ukrainian flag would "fly high" at the 2024 Games in Paris and said the IOC would triple its funding for Ukrainian athletes to ensure they could compete.

Zelenskyy said 89 athletes and coaches have died in the war with Russia.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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