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On July 3, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the Russian military had “liberated” the entire territory of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region.

Shoigu said Russian forces and Moscow-backed militants had taken control of the town of Lysychansk, which has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days and was the last major population center in the Lugansk region that remained. partially under Ukrainian control.

“Sergei Shoigu informed the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, Vladimir Putin, of the liberation of the Lugansk People’s Republic,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

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Russian state media quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying, “Russian troops… are fighting inside Lysychansk, completing the defeat of the encircled enemy.

Serhey Hayday, the pro-Kyiv governor of the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram that Russian forces are “getting a foothold in the city”. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on July 2 that Russian forces had created “a threatening situation” in the city.

In April, Russia withdrew its forces from around Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine and declared control of eastern Ukraine in Donetsk and Luhansk to be Moscow’s main war objective.

Russian troops have bombarded Lysychansk with rocket and missile attacks for the past few days, and the latest fighting comes a week after the fall of its sister city, Syevyerodonetsk, just across the Siverskiy Donets river. This city had been reduced to rubble by Russian forces before the takeover.

Also on July 3, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine near the city of Kharkiv, said at least three people had been killed and many buildings damaged overnight in the regional capital in what a senior Russian lawmaker called “a direct act of aggression.” from Ukraine.

In a July 3 Telegram message, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported numerous explosions in Belgorod, a city of some 400,000 people about 40 kilometers north of the border with Ukraine. He said at least 11 apartment buildings and 39 single-family homes were damaged or destroyed in the incident overnight.

At least four people, including a 10-year-old child, were injured, Gladkov said.

Russian Federation Council lawmaker Andrei Klishas directly blamed Ukraine for the alleged incident.

“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod is a direct act of aggression by Ukraine and requires the harshest response, including military,” Klishas wrote on Telegram.

The claims by Russian officials could not be independently verified and Ukraine made no immediate response. Videos published on social media supposed to show explosions and fires in the city.

On the same day, the governor of the neighboring Russian region of Kursk, which also borders Ukraine, wrote on Telegram that “our air defenses shot down two Ukrainian Strizh drones” during the night, adding that there was no had casualties in the incident. Unverifiable video posted on social media purporting to show a large plume of smoke near the city of Kursk.

Numerous fires and explosions have been reported in Belgorod and other areas since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but Kyiv has not claimed any of them.

Belgorod’s report comes as the Russian military has stepped up missile attacks across Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed and millions displaced since the war began, although Russian officials have denied targeting civilians.

On July 3, Ukraine claimed to have carried out dozens of missile strikes against a Russian military base in the occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine. Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov posted on Telegram from Ukrainian-held territory that the base had been “decommissioned”. He added that partisan action derailed a Russian military train carrying munitions outside Melitopol on July 2.

Russian media quoted a Russian-appointed local occupation official as saying that two missile strikes were recorded in the city overnight and there were no casualties.

With reports from Reuters, AP, TASS and dpa

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