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Putin: Victory in Luhansk     07/05 05:37

   Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday declared victory in the eastern 
Ukrainian region of Luhansk, one day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their 
last remaining bulwark of resistance in the province.

   POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday 
declared victory in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, one day after 
Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining bulwark of resistance in 
the province.

   Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised 
meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together 
with the neighboring Donetsk province makes up Ukraine's industrial heartland 
of Donbas.

   Shoigu told Putin that "the operation" was completed on Sunday after Russian 
troops overran the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces 
in Luhansk.

   Putin, in turn, said that the military units "that took part in active 
hostilities and achieved success, victory" in Luhansk, "should rest, increase 
their combat capabilities."

   Putin's declaration came as Russian forces tried to press their offensive 
deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed that its 
forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday. Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai 
said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid being 
surrounded.

   "There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement," Haidai told the Associated 
Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but 
would have potentially paid too high a price.

    

   "We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured," Haidai 
said. "We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was 
organized well."

   The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces were now focusing their 
efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the 
Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia. The Russian army 
has also intensified its shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk 
and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

   On Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the 
Russian shelling of Sloviansk and another 19 people were wounded, according to 
local authorities. Kramatorsk also came under fire on Sunday.

   An intelligence briefing Monday from the British Defense Ministry supported 
the Ukrainian military's assessment, noting that Russian forces will "now 
almost certainly" switch to capturing Donetsk. The briefing said the conflict 
in Donbas has been "grinding and attritional," and is unlikely to change in the 
coming weeks.

   While the Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, military 
analysts say that it doesn't have any significant superiority in the number of 
troops. That means Moscow lacks resources for quick land gains and can only 
advance slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket barrages to soften 
Ukrainian defenses.

   Putin has made capturing the entire Donbas a key goal in his war in Ukraine, 
now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have battled 
Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after the 
Russian annexation of Ukraine's Crimea. Russia formally recognized the 
self-proclaimed republics days before its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

   Since failing to take Kyiv and other areas in Ukraine's northeast early in 
the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing fierce shelling and engaging 
in house-to-house combat that devastated cities in the region.

   Russia's invasion has also devastated Ukraine's agricultural sector, 
disrupting supply chains of seed and fertilizer needed by Ukrainian farmers and 
blocking the export of grain, a key source of revenue for the country.

   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his nightly video address, 
called for immediate economic aid to help the country rebuild even as fighting 
continues.

   "The restoration of Ukraine is not only about what needs to be done later 
after our victory, but also about what needs to be done right now. And we must 
do this together with our partners, with the entire democratic world," he said.

   "A significant part of the economy has been destroyed by hostilities and 
Russian strikes. Thousands of enterprises do not work. And this means a high 
need for jobs, to provide social benefits, despite the decrease in tax 
revenues," Zelenskyy said.

   In its Monday intelligence report, Britain's defense ministry pointed to the 
Russian blockade of the key Ukrainian port of Odesa, which has severely 
restricted grain exports. They predicted that Ukraine's agricultural exports 
would reach only 35% of the 2021 total this year as a result.

   As Moscow pushed its offensive across Ukraine's east, areas in western 
Russia came under attack Sunday in a revival of sporadic apparent Ukrainian 
strikes across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region in Western 
Russia said fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people 
Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, 
according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

   In other developments:

   -- Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front lines in eastern Ukraine's 
Donbas region -- where Russia is waging a fierce offensive -- describe life 
during what has turned into a grueling war of attrition as apocalyptic.

   -- Two Russian airplanes departed Bulgaria on Sunday with scores of Russian 
diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has sent 
tensions soaring between the historically close nations, a Russian diplomat 
said.

 
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