Ukraine’s forces retreated from the strategic city of Lisichansk over the weekend, as Russia claimed a major victory by taking control of the entire eastern Lugansk region.
The Ukrainian withdrawal followed several weeks of fierce fighting and marked a decisive success for Moscow’s forces, more than four months after their offensive and diverting their attention from the capital, Kyiv.
The leaders of dozens of countries and international organizations will meet in Switzerland on Monday to outline a “martial plan” for the rebuilding of Ukraine – which Russia aims to launch despite the continuing war effort.
A major flashpoint in the conflict, Lysichansk was the last holdout in the Lugansk region of the eastern Donbass region and the occupation of Moscow freed the Russian army to advance on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in neighboring Donetsk.
In the face of Russia’s superiority in numbers and equipment “the continuation of the city’s defense will have fatal consequences”, the Ukrainian military said in a statement announcing its withdrawal on Sunday evening.
“In order to preserve the lives of the Ukrainian defenders, it was decided to withdraw.
“Unfortunately, steel will and patriotism are not enough for success – material and technical resources are needed.”
The collapse of Lysychansk came as Russian forces seized its twin city of Severodonetsk after bouts of intense fighting last week.
In an address late Sunday, Zelensky vowed that Kyiv would fight and ensure the military had “the most modern weapons”.
“It requires a number of negotiations, but we will ensure such supplies. Ukraine will reach the level when the fire superiority of the occupiers is leveled.”
The latest country to provide aid was Australia, whose Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised further military aid – including armored vehicles and drones – during a meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday.
‘Firing from all sides’
On Sunday, Moscow accused Kyiv of firing three cluster missiles at the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border, a day after neighboring Belarus said it had intercepted Ukrainian missiles.
Russia, representing the escalation of the conflict, said its anti-aircraft defenses shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by “Ukrainian nationalists” against Belgorod.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said eleven residential buildings and 39 houses had been damaged.
Russia has previously accused Kyiv of carrying out attacks on Russian soil, especially in the Belgorod region.
On Saturday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accused Kyiv of provocation and said his army intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian forces “about three days ago”.
Belarus, a Russian ally, supported the February 24 invasion and has been accused by Kyiv of launching its own attacks on Ukrainian territory.
Lukashenko denied any involvement in the recent cross-border incident.
“We do not intend to fight in Ukraine,” he said on Saturday, according to state-run Belta news agency.
Zelensky said Sunday evening that heavy Russian shelling struck the town of Sloviask, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) west of Lisichansk, killing six people – among them a nine-year-old girl.
About 20 others were wounded as “Russian forces once again opened fire”, as well as Kramatorsk and Kharkiv.
Donetsk authorities said two people were killed and three were wounded, including two children, in an attack on the town of Dobropilia, southwest of Slovak.
Residents and an official told AFP that the city of Siversk, 30 kilometers west of Lisichansk, also received shelling overnight.
“It was intense, and it was shooting from all sides,” said a woman taking refuge in a basement.
“The Russian army has now assembled its greatest firepower in the Donbass, and they can use tens of thousands of artillery shells every day,” Zelensky said.
But as Ukrainian troops had made progress in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, he said, “there will be a day when we will say the same about the Donbass.”
“We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and the people must be protected above all,” Zelensky said. “Ukraine gives nothing.”
A Ukrainian official said on Sunday that Kyiv’s military had seen another breakthrough in Melitopol, where they “put out of action” a Russian military base, while the military said the air force had fired around 20 Russian units and two shells. The gunpowder depot was destroyed.
“The city of Melitopol is covered with smoke,” said Ivan Fedorov, the city’s exiled mayor.
‘Democracy over autocracy’
Four months after the war, Ukraine has seen catastrophic destruction in nearly 10 regions.
On Monday, leaders of dozens of countries and international organizations will meet in the Swiss city of Lugano, where they aim to draw up a roadmap for the reconstruction of Ukraine – which will cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Ukraine will also face demands for sweeping reforms, especially cracking down on corruption, after Brussels recently granted Kyiv candidate status to join the 27-member bloc.
The Foreign Office said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to pledge immediate humanitarian aid as well as access to British financial and economic expertise.
She would tell delegates that Ukraine’s recovery “will be a symbol of the power of democracy over autocracy”, it added.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)