Fighting raged as Russian troops intensified their offensive in parts of the hard-fought Ukrainian city of Lysychansk on Sunday, 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,” Sergei Gaidai, governor of the Lugansk region, said on Telegram.
Lysychansk is the last major city in the Lugansk area of the eastern Donbas region still in Kyiv’s hands.
Gaidai’s update came hours after Ukraine denied claims by Moscow-backed separatists that they had encircled Lysychansk.
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 leader Alexander Lukashenko accused Kyiv of “provoking” his country and that his army intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian forces “around three days ago”.
But Lukashenko denied any involvement, which would represent an escalation of the conflict.
– ‘Heavy losses’ –
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cited six strikes as of the evening in his daily address to the nation late Saturday.
In the small Donetsk town of Siversk, one resident told AFP that “the bombing goes on day and night.”
Rockets also struck residential properties in Sloviansk in the heart of the Donbas, killing a woman in her garden and wounding her husband, a neighbour told AFP Saturday, describing debris showered across the neighbourhood.
Zelensky warned against “a feeling of relaxation” in many rear cities.
Russian defence ministry 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, Zelensky also looked forward to a conference on Ukraine’s reconstruction set to start Monday in Switzerland.
Rebuilding Ukraine “requires colossal investments — billions, new technologies, best practices, new institutions and, of course, reforms,” Zelensky said.
The roadmap 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.
Ukraine will also face demands for broad reforms, especially in cracking down on corruption.
In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia’s invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine’s ports seized, razed or blockaded — sparking concerns about food shortages, particularly in poor countries.
“We can wait until August 10 at the latest, but after that, the grains are going to dry out and fall to the ground,” he said.
Originally published as Battle rages for Ukraine city, Belarus says downed missiles