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After losing Luhansk, Ukraine forces gather for defence of Donetsk

After losing Luhansk, Ukraine forces gather for defence of Donetsk
July 5, 2022 Reuters

KYIV (Reuters) - Russian forces set their sights on their next objectives in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in neighbouring Luhansk province and the five-month long war entered a new phase.

The capture of the city of Lysychansk on Sunday completed the Russian conquest of Luhansk, one of two regions in Donbas, the industrialised eastern region of Ukraine that has become the site of the biggest battle in Europe in generations.

Both sides have suffered heavy casualties in the fight for Luhansk, particularly during the siege of the twin cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. Both cities have been left in ruins by relentless Russian bombardment.

"The city doesn't exist anymore," said Nina, a young mother who has fled Lysychansk to take refuge in the central city of Dnipro.

"It has practically been wiped off the face of the Earth. There is no humanitarian aid distribution centre, it has been hit. The building which used to house the centre does not exist any more. Just like many of our houses."

Ukrainian forces on Tuesday took up new defensive lines in Donetsk, where they still control major cities, while Putin told his troops to "absolutely rest and recover their military preparedness", while units in other areas keep fighting.

Russian forces shelled the towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk overnight, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk.

"They are now also the main line of assault for the enemy," he said of the towns. "There is no safe place without shelling in Donetsk region."

Since the outset of the conflict, Russia has demanded that Ukraine hand both Luhansk and Donetsk to pro-Moscow separatists, which have declared independent statelets.

"This is the last victory for Russia on Ukrainian territory," Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a video posted online.

"These were medium-sized cities. And this took from 4th April until 4th July -- that's 90 days. So many losses."

Arestovych said besides the battle for Donetsk, Ukraine was hoping to launch counter offensives in the south of the country.

"Taking the cities in the east meant that 60% of Russian forces are now concentrated in the east and it is difficult for them to be redirected to the south," he said.

"And there are no more forces that can be brought in from Russia. They paid a big price for Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk."

Some military experts reckoned the hard fought victory had brought Russian forces little strategic gain, and the outcome of what has been dubbed the "battle of the Donbas" remained in the balance.