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Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Picture: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH
Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Picture: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

Kyiv/Pokrovsk — Russian forces were fighting on Monday to capture Lysychansk, the last major city still held by Ukrainian troops in eastern Luhansk province, after Moscow-backed separatists said they are advancing on multiple fronts.

In a victory for the Kremlin's campaign, Lysychansk's twin city of Sievierodonetsk, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting, fell to pro-Russian forces on Saturday. Russian missiles also struck Kyiv for the first time in weeks on Sunday, attacks condemned by US President Joe Biden as “barbarism”.

Tass news agency on Sunday quoted a separatist official as saying Moscow's forces have entered Lysychansk from five directions and are isolating Ukrainian defenders.

Reuters could not confirm the report.

The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said Russian forces are using artillery to try cutting off Lysychansk from the south but made no mention of separatists entering the city.

Russian assault aircraft struck near Lysychansk, the general staff added in its update on Monday.

“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week,” said Elena, an elderly woman from the city who was among dozens of evacuees who arrived in the Ukrainian-held town of Pokrovsk by bus from frontline areas. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house,” she added.

The RIA agency quoted a separatist official as saying separatist forces have evacuated more than 250 people, including children, on Sunday from Sievierodonetsk's Azot chemical plant.

The industrial area was the last part of Sievierodonetsk held by Ukrainian forces before they withdrew.

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk make up Ukraine's eastern Donbas region — the country's industrial heartland.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said missiles also struck the central city of Cherkasy on Sunday, hitting a strategic bridge linking western Ukraine and the eastern battlefields.

“They are trying to limit the transfer of our reserves and Western weapons to the east,” he said.

Odesa regional administration spokesperson Serhiy Bratchuk said a missile strike in the Odesa region, southern Ukraine, has destroyed residential buildings and caused a fire. Six people were injured including a child, he added.

Reuters was not able to immediately confirm details of the report. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Ukraine needs a modern air defence system to deter Russian missiles, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Sunday evening address, after missiles earlier struck an apartment block and close to a kindergarten in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

“Partners need to move faster if they are really partners, not observers. Delays with the weapons transfers to our state, any restrictions — this is actually an invitation for Russia to hit again and again,” he added.

The US is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long-range surface-to-air missile defence system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter said.

Biden called the Sunday Kyiv strikes acts of “barbarism”, as leaders from the Group of Seven nations met for a summit in Germany.

Some G7 leaders mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin as they gathered for a group photograph at the summit.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested the leaders “show them our pecs” in reference to Putin's shirtless poses over the years, including on horseback.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We're going to get the bare-chested horseback riding display”. EU President Ursula von der Leyen replied: “Oh yes. Horseback riding is the best.”

Britain, Canada, Japan and the US proposed a ban on gold imports from Russia to tighten the squeeze on Moscow and cut off its means of financing the invasion.

Sweeping sanctions have effectively cut Russia out of the global financial system and rendered its assets untouchable to many investors.

It edged closer to default on Sunday amid little sign that investors holding its international bonds have received payment, heralding what would be its first default in decades.

Some Taiwanese holders of Russian Eurobonds have not received interest due on May 27 after a grace period expired on Sunday evening, two sources said.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin called a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security.

Kyiv and the West dismiss that as a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing Ukraine, destroyed cities and driven up food and energy prices.



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