The heavily contested city of Lyssychansk has fallen to Moscow, according to Russian sources. Kyiv rejects this report. The city is not fully controlled by the Russians, they say.

According to the Russian army, it has captured the strategically important city of Lyssychansk in eastern Ukraine. This means that the entire Donbass region of Luhansk has been “liberated,” the Defense Ministry said in Moscow on Sunday. There was initially no confirmation from the Ukrainian side. Reports from the combat zones can hardly be checked independently. More than 100,000 people used to live in the fiercely contested city. The neighboring city of Sievjerodonetsk had already been conquered by Russia.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has informed President Vladimir Putin, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, “about the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” the ministry said. “Successful combat operations of the Russian armed forces together with the units of the Luhansk People’s Republic established complete control over the city of Lysychansk and a number of nearby towns,” Interfax said in the minister’s statement. Within a day, their own troops would have conquered 182 square kilometers in the region.

Ukraine has now contradicted the Russian statements. The city is not under full Russian control, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense in Kyiv told the BBC on Sunday. However, the situation has been “very intense” for some time now, with Russian troops constantly attacking the city.

Lysychansk of strategic and symbolic importance

“For Ukrainians, the value of human life is the top priority,” the spokesman continued. “As a result, we might sometimes withdraw from certain areas in order to reclaim them in the future.” Ukrainian ministry spokesman said Donbass is not lost even if Russia captures all of Luhansk. There are other large cities there, especially in the Donetsk region, which are under Ukrainian control. “These cities have been the target of heavy rocket attacks and artillery shelling in recent days. But the battle for Donbass is not over yet.”

Lysychansk is part of the Sieverodonetsk-Lysychansk conurbation, which has been the subject of months of fighting. Before the war, a total of 380,000 people lived in the conurbation. Lysychansk is important strategically, but also symbolically. The city was an important industrial center, including for oil processing.

With their fall, Ukraine would have lost the last major city in the Luhansk region. The conquest of the area had been declared by the Russian side as an important war aim from the start. The neighboring town of Sievjerodonetsk was conquered by Russian troops a week ago. Both cities belong to the Luhansk region, one of the two sub-regions of the Donbass.