Fighting raged as Russian troops intensified their offensive in parts of the hard-fought Ukrainian city of Lysychansk yesterday, after Belarus announced its military had intercepted missiles fired by Kyiv’s forces.
“The Russians are entrenching themselves in a district of Lysychansk, the city is on fire,” Lugansk Governor Sergei Gaidai said on Telegram.
“They attacked the city with inexplicably brutal tactics,” he added.
Lysychansk is the last major city in the Lugansk area of the eastern Donbas region still in Kyiv’s hands.
Located across the river from neighboring Severodonetsk, which Russian forces seized last week, its capture would signal a deeper push into the Donbas, which has become Moscow’s focus since failing to capture Ukraine’s capital.
Gaidai’s update came hours after Ukraine denied claims by Moscow-backed separatists that they had encircled Lysychansk.
“The city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the separatist forces, told the TASS news agency that Lysychansk was “completely encircled.”
The intense fighting came as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Kyiv of “provoking” his country and said his army intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian forces “around three days ago.”
The claim came one week after Ukraine said missiles struck a border region from Belarus, a long-term Russian ally that supported the Feb. 24 invasion.
However, Lukashenko denied any involvement, which would represent an escalation of the conflict.
“As I said more than a year ago, we do not intend to fight in Ukraine,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Belta on Saturday.
The violence also spilled into Russia yesterday, with at least three people killed and four injured in “strong explosions” in Belgorod, which borders Ukraine.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 11 residential buildings and 39 houses were damaged, but stopped short of accusing Ukrainian forces of being behind the strikes.
However, Russia has previously accused Kyiv of conducting strikes on Russian soil, particularly in the Belgorod region.
Missiles continued to rain down across Ukraine, killing dozens. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy cited six strikes as of the evening in his daily address to the nation late on Saturday.
“Fierce fighting continues along the entire front line in Donbas,” he said, adding that “enemy activity in the Kharkiv region is intensifying.”
In the small Donetsk town of Siversk, one resident told reporters that “the bombing goes on day and night.”
Two people were killed and three wounded — including two children — in a strike on the town of Dobropillya, local authorities in Donetsk said.
Rockets also struck residential properties in Sloviansk in the heart of the Donbas, killing a woman in her garden and wounding her husband, a neighbor told reporters on Saturday, describing debris showered across the neighborhood.
The witness said the strike, which took place on Friday, was thought to use cluster munitions, which spread over a large area before exploding, striking buildings and people who were outdoors.
Zelenskiy warned against “a feeling of relaxation” in many rear cities.
“The war is not over,” he said. “Unfortunately, its cruelty is only increasing in some places, and it cannot be forgotten.”
Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine was “suffering heavy losses on all fronts,” listing what he said were military targets across the country hit with artillery and missiles.
In his address, Zelenskiy also looked forward to a conference on Ukraine’s reconstruction set to start today in Switzerland.
Leaders from dozens of countries and international organizations are to gather in the city of Lugano with the aim of providing a road map for the war-ravaged country’s recovery.
Rebuilding Ukraine “requires colossal investments — billions, new technologies, best practices, new institutions and, of course, reforms,” Zelenskiy said.
He said 10 regions of Ukraine had been affected in the war, with many towns and villages needing to be “rebuilt from scratch.”
The road map is expected to lay out reconstruction needs in terms of damaged and destroyed infrastructure, Ukraine’s devastated economy, and also environmental and social recovery needs.
The effort is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Ukraine would also face demands for broad reforms, especially in cracking down on corruption.
The need for reforms had been underscored by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has said the coveted EU membership was “within reach” for Ukraine, but urged Kyiv to work on anti-corruption measures.
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