A still image taken from a handout video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry press service shows a local man flying the Russian flag on his balcony in Lysychansk, Ukraine, on Monday. Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE
July 4 (UPI) -- Russian forces have managed to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in eastern Ukraine following their capture of the key city of Lysychansk, Ukrainian military officials said Monday.
"After conducting artillery exercises, Russian troops have forced the crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River" at Lysychansk in the Luhansk region and are now consolidating their positions in and around the city, the Ukrainian general staff said in a Facebook update.
The crossing came hours after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Moscow had captured Lysychansk, the last major city that had been under Ukrainian control in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
The Donbas region has been largely held by pro-Russian separatists since Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics before the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.
Experts have said that Putin will try to annex the Donbas region into Russia in the coming months. By seizing Lysychansk, Russia is one step closer to sectioning off Luhansk.
Putin on Monday declared victory in Luhansk and received suggestions from his top military commanders on how to press forward with the Ukrainian offensive during a televised meeting with Shoigu, the Interfax news agency reported.
"The Ministry of Defense and the general staff are considering all the proposals of commanders on the ground," Putin said. "The units that took part in active hostilities and achieved success -- victories in the Luhansk direction -- of course should rest and increase their combat capabilities."
Britain's Defense Ministry confirmed the Russian gains at Lysychansk in an update posted Monday.
"Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from Lysychansk, likely falling back to prepared defensive positions," the British officials noted, adding that the Kremlin's focus now "almost certainly switch to capturing Donetsk oblast, a large portion of which remains under the control Ukrainian forces."
The "grinding and attritional" nature of the ongoing battle in Donetsk is unlikely to change in the coming weeks, they warned.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian invaders along the Black Sea coast remained underway. Kyiv, however, denied a published report that its forces are within striking distance of the occupied city of Kherson.
The British newspaper The Economist reported Monday that "forward units are now within sniper range (about a kilometer) from the outskirts of Kherson."
That report was contradicted by Nataliya Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine's southern operational command.
"Only the military can comment on the advance of troops," she said, claiming the report "does not correspond to reality" and "harms not only the military operation, but in the end the image of those who declare it."
Russian occupiers in Kherson on Monday declared that a new government has been formed in the region.
Vladimir Saldo, head of a military-civilian administration formed in late April, announced the new government would be led by Sergey Yeliseyev, who earlier served as an official in Russia's Kaliningrad region in Western Europe.
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