Russia claimed Tuesday it has assumed control over almost all of Luhansk province in eastern Ukraine, but Ukrainian officials said their troops are standing their ground in fierce fighting with Moscow’s forces in the streets of the region’s key industrial city of Sievierodonetsk.
After weeks of attacks on eastern Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow's forces now control 97% of Luhansk province, part of the Donbas region it hopes to claim after failing during three-plus months of fighting to topple Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv.
Zelenskyy, in his nightly video address Monday, said, "Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk."
The city’s mayor, Oleksandr Stryuk, told Ukrainian television on Tuesday, "Our armed forces have strengthened their positions and are holding the line."
The battle for Sievierodonetsk is crucial to Moscow’s attempt to assume full domination over Luhansk province. A week ago, Russian forces had captured 70% of the city, but a Ukrainian counteroffensive pushed back Moscow’s troops, leaving control of the city in doubt.
Both Russia and Ukraine claim to have inflicted huge casualties on each other.
Shoigu said Russian troops were also advancing toward the town of Popasna, and he said they have taken control of Lyman and Sviatohirsk and 15 other towns in the region.
He said 6,489 Ukrainian troops have been taken prisoner since the start of the military action in Ukraine on February 24, including 126 over the past five days.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak urged his people not to be dismayed by battlefield reverses.
"Don't let the news that we've ceded something scare you," he said in a video address. "It is clear that tactical maneuvers are ongoing. We cede something, we take something back."
Zelenskyy told a news conference Monday that Russian troops also intend to capture Zaporizhzhia, in the southeast, to allow them to advance closer to the center of the country.
“The enemy wants to ... occupy the city of Zaporizhzhia,” Zelenskyy said. The city is an industrial hub with a pre-war population of more than 700,000 people.
The Ukrainian leader said he received confirmation from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “of a new enhanced defense support package,” and that the two discussed ways to unblock Ukrainian ports and avoid a food crisis.
Britain announced Monday it is sending M270 multiple-launch rocket systems that can hit targets up to 80 kilometers away.
“We cannot stand by while Russian long-range artillery flattens cities and kills innocent civilians,” Johnson said.
Ben Wallace, Britain’s defense secretary, said support for Ukraine must change as Russia’s tactics change, and that the new rocket systems “will enable our Ukrainian friends to better protect themselves against the brutal use of long-range artillery, which Putin’s forces have used indiscriminately to flatten cities.” Wallace was referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin has warned that Moscow would hit targets “we haven’t yet struck” if the West went ahead with plans to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden said last week the United States plans to send the Kyiv government $700 million in new weaponry that includes four precision-guided, medium-range rocket systems, helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, radars, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more.
Russia’s foreign ministry announced new sanctions Monday against 61 U.S. nationals in response to what it called “constantly expanding U.S. sanctions.”
Those listed include Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Some material in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.