Locals look at destroyed buildings in Lysychansk after heavy fighting in recent weeks in the Luhansk area of Ukraine. File Photo by Oleksandr Ratushnia/EPA-EFE
July 2 (UPI) -- Ukraine's army rejected Russian-backed separatists claim on Saturday that the key city of Lysychansk was encircled as fighting raged on in the fifth month of the Russian-Ukraine war.
"Our units have entered Lysychansk in the area of the Shakhter stadium," said Vitaly Kiselev, an aide to the Luhansk People's Republic's interior minister, according to Russia's state-run TASS.
Later Saturday morning, the Ukrainian army rejected those claims.
"Fighting rages around Lysychansk," Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television, according to The Guardian. "Luckily the city has not be encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army."
Lysychansk is Ukraine's last stronghold in the Luhansk oblast of the eastern Donbas region after Ukrainian troops pulled out of Severodonetsk last week following months of relentless shelling.
The Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts are collectively known as the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Muzytchuk told Ukrinform, the national news agency of Ukraine, that the Russian forces' goal is to take full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"Over the past few days, as can be seen from reports by the general staff, the situation has been the most difficult in Lysyschansk, Bakhmutsk directions and the Kharkiv region," Muzytchuk said.
He added that there is also the threat of shelling in southern and northern regions of Ukraine, including the border areas of Sumy and Chernihov regions.
In an intelligence update posted to Twitter on Saturday, the British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces had achieved "minor advances" around Lysychansk, with "air and artillery strikes continuing."
The British Defense Ministry also noted that strikes on Friday in Odessa oblast "likely involved" an upgraded version of a Soviet-era missile called Kh-22, amid dwindling stockpile of more accurate modern weapons, which increased the "likelihood of collateral damage."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the missile strike that killed at least 21 people in the southern Ukraine port city of Odessa in a nightly video address Friday. The attack targeted a nine-story residential building and recreation center, according to The Guardian.
"I emphasize: this is an act of conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror--and not some kind of mistake or an accidental missile strike," Zelensky said.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told TASS on Saturday that Ukraine is suffering "significant losses," including losses in personnel in the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade and the 72nd Mechanized Brigade.
Since the Russia-Ukraine war began on Feb. 24, 4,731 civilians have been killed and 5,900 have been injured, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights latest update. The update notes that actual civilian casualties may be considerably higher due to delayed reports and many reports still pending corroboration.
A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo