Fresh of their victory over the key stronghold of Sievierodonetsk, Russian forces have claimed victory over its sister city of Lysychansk, which puts Russia in total control of the Luhansk province. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu affirmed as much in a Sunday statement, while the Ukrainian regional governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said the "city is on fire".
"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 [LPR]," the defense ministry said in a statement.
Russia's military and its separatist allies are now "full control of Lysychansk and other nearby towns, notably Belogorovka, Novodruzhesk, Maloryazantseve and Bila Hora," the statement added.
As for the aforementioned regional governor Haidai, he wrote on Telegram that "the Russians are reinforcing their positions in the Lysychansk region."
"The Russians are entrenched in the Lysychansk district, the city is on fire. The occupiers probably deployed all their forces at Lysychansk. They attacked the city with inexplicably brutal tactics," Haidai said.
As Luhansk and its breakaway pro-Russian republic is one of the two key regions that form Donbas, this puts Moscow a major step closer to achieving its stated goal of liberating all of the Donbas.
A representative of the LPR militia, Andrei Marochko, said the city was being "cleared of Ukrainian nationalists" and said "victory flags have already been installed" near Lysychansk, as cited in CNN. Some reports have said that local pro-Russian citizens have erected a Soviet flag at a central city monument.
According to a battlefield update issued by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Saturday night:
...the cities of the Luhansk region were "the epicenter" of the hostilities. In his nightly address on Saturday, Zelensky acknowledged that more than 2,600 Ukrainian cities and towns were under Russian control.
“The Russian army continued to fire missiles at our cities,” Zelensky said, urging people to “help the army, help volunteers, help everyone who was left alone at this time” and to use their contacts to “spread the truth about the war and about the crimes of the occupiers on our land.”
An Al Jazeera war correspondent observed of Lysychansk's capture by Russian forces, "That is strategically significant because that is where the Russians moved their military attention to after they failed to move into Kyiv in the early days of the war when they were beaten back from the capital."
Last week, in virtual speeches before the G7 and NATO summits, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky used the imminent fall of these eastern cities to highlight that his forces are in urgent need of more and heavier weaponry. He even suggested Putin could eventually go on to attack NATO "next year".
He said that before next year's NATO annual summit, it could be that "several other states, possible members of the alliance, come under fire from Russia" and expressed hope he will attend the meeting in-person by then.