Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city of Sievierodonetsk across the Siverskiy Donets River last month after some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the so-called pro-Moscow Lugansk People’s Republic, told Russian television “Lysychansk has been brought under control”, but added: “Unfortunately, he is not released yet”.
Russian media showed video of the Luhansk militia marching through the streets of Lysychansk waving flags and cheering, but Ukrainian National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian TV the town remained in the hands Ukrainians.
“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, but fortunately the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.
Zelenskiy’s adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said Russian forces eventually crossed the Siverskiy Donets River and approached the town from the north.
“It is indeed a threat. We’ll see. I’m not ruling out any of the many outcomes here. Things will become much clearer in a day or two.
“If Lysychansk is taken, strategically it becomes more difficult for the Russians to continue their offensive. The front lines will be flatter and there will be a frontal attack rather than from the flanks.”
He said the Russians should focus on taking six major cities in the industrialized region of eastern Donbass and that their forces would be increasingly dispersed.
“The more Western weapons come to the front, the more the situation changes in favor of Ukraine,” he said.
Ukraine has repeatedly demanded more weapons from the West, saying its forces are grossly outgunned.
Elsewhere, Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odessa, reported powerful explosions in the city on Saturday.
“Stay in the shelters! he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as the air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it hit army command posts.
Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.
Ukrainian authorities said a missile hit a building near Odessa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping mall was hit in the central city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing at least 19 people.
Zelenskiy denounced Friday’s strikes as “conscious and deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some kind of mistake or chance missile strike.”
“VERY DIFFICULT PATH”
In his televised address on Saturday, Zelenskiy said it would be a “very difficult road” to victory, but that the Ukrainians must maintain their resolve and inflict losses on “the aggressor…so that every Russian remembers that the Ukraine cannot be broken”.
Kyiv says Moscow has stepped up missile attacks on towns away from major battlefields in the east and deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines describe intense artillery barrages on residential areas.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and towns razed to the ground since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Russia’s denials that it was targeting civilians.
Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Lugansk and Donetsk provinces in the Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
Troops on a break from fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a town some 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the town’s supply route open besieged, despite the Russian bombardments.
“We always use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.
“The Russian tactic at the moment is to bomb any building that we could locate ourselves in. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” he said.
Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged in the ground of a residential area on the outskirts of the Donbass city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.
The missile fell in a wooded area between residential towers. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.
Although beaten in the east, Ukrainian forces made progress elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odessa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to blockade Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters and a major producer of seeds for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a spike in global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a major grain producer, attributes the crisis to Western sanctions that are hurting its exports.