Russian Defense Minister “Sergei Shoigu informed” President Vladimir Putin “of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Lugansk”, after the capture of the city of Lysytchansk, at the heart of intense fighting, according to an official statement quoted by Russian news agencies.

Russian forces and their separatist allies have taken “complete control of Lysychansk and other nearby towns, the most notable of which are Belogorovka, Novodrujesk, Maloriazantsevo and Belaya Gora,” the statement added.

AFP could not verify this information from an independent source.

The capture of Lysytchansk, if confirmed by kyiv, would allow Moscow to progress in its plan to conquer all of Donbass, an industrial region in eastern Ukraine that is largely Russian-speaking and partly controlled by separatists. since 2014, and to advance towards the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, further west, where the inhabitants already live to the daily rhythm of warning sirens and bombardments.

In Kremlin phraseology, the ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine is aimed at liberating territories considered Russian.

On Sunday morning, the governor of the Lugansk region, Sergey Gaidar, had hinted that the Ukrainian forces were rapidly losing ground to the attackers in Lysytchansk, a city which had 100,000 inhabitants before the start of the war.

“The Russians are setting up shop in a district of Lysytchansk, the city is on fire,” he said.

“The occupiers have probably engaged all their forces [in an extremely] brutal battle” of systematic destruction of administrative buildings, added Mr. Gaidar. “They take heavy losses but stubbornly keep pushing forward.”

– Four dead in Belgorod –

The Russian army also claimed to have shot down three Ukrainian missiles at dawn on Sunday, launched against the town of Belgorod, near the border with Ukraine, where a local official had previously announced the death of at least three people after explosions.

“Russian anti-aircraft defenses shot down the three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by Ukrainian nationalists against Belgorod. After the destruction of the Ukrainian missiles, the debris of one of them fell on a house” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Moscow has repeatedly accused kyiv of hitting Russian soil, particularly in the Belgorod region. In early April, Mr. Gladkov accused Ukraine of carrying out an attack against a fuel depot in Belgorod with two helicopters.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city in the northeast, residents were awakened again at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) “by Russian rocket attacks”, according to the governor of the region, Oleg Sinegoubov, who also reported Russian “shooting” in the morning on several districts in his area.

On the southern front, the Ukrainian regional operational command said in the morning that in the past 24 hours the Russian army had carried out “nine airstrikes with K-52 combat helicopters and 2 bombardments on the island of Serpents,” recaptured by Kyiv forces in the northwest Black Sea on Wednesday.

From the same source, the building of a rest base located on the coast was damaged by a Russian missile which caused no casualties. For its part, the Ukrainian army says it has carried out five strikes with planes and helicopters on two ammunition warehouses and five points of concentration of Russian forces.

– Minsk menace – 

On the diplomatic level, Belarus, a neighbor of Ukraine and an ally of Moscow, seemed to send a warning to kyiv and its Western backers on Saturday evening, fueling speculation about Minsk’s growing involvement in the conflict.

“About three days ago, maybe more, we tried from Ukraine to hit military targets in Belarus” but “Thank God, our Pantsir anti-aircraft systems intercepted all missiles fired by Ukrainian forces “, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said.

“We are being provoked,” he said, threatening to “instantly” respond to any enemy strike against Belarusian territory.

“Less than a month ago, I gave the order to our armed forces to have in sight, as we say now, the decision-making centers in your capitals”, declared Mr. Lukashenko again, referring to missiles promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the Belarusian Polonez rocket launcher system.

Since Moscow launched the war, Belarus has served as a rear base for Russian forces, and Mr. Putin recently announced that Moscow will deliver Iskander-M missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Minsk “in the coming months”. .

In a video message sent to Ukrainians on Saturday evening, Mr. Zelensky counted “2,610” towns and villages “under Russian occupation”. But since the start of the war, the Ukrainian army has “managed to free 1,027”, he assured.

“Hundreds have been completely destroyed by the Russian army and need to be totally rebuilt,” he added. The question of the reconstruction of the country must be at the heart of an international conference Monday and Tuesday in Lugano, Switzerland.

“It is not only necessary to rebuild everything that the occupiers destroyed, but also to lay new foundations for our life, for a safe, modern Ukraine”, declared the Ukrainian president, for whom this must go through “colossal investment” and “reforms”.