Ukrainian officials say Lysychansk remains in their hands as it happened


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THE GUARDIAN

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12.47am BST

This blog is closed. All the Guardian’s Ukraine coverage can be found here

11.13pm BST

Ukrainian officials say that Lysychansk remains in Ukraine’s hands, despite claims from Russia that the city “has been brought under control”, Reuters reports.

Ukrainian forces have spent weeks trying to defend the city, Ukraine’s last bastion in the eastern province of Luhansk. The city saw intensified fighting on Saturday and videos on Russian media showed Luhansk militia waving flags and cheering in Lysychansk streets. A spokesperson for the pro-Russian separatist forces said “Lysychansk has been brought under control,” but “unfortunately, it is not yet liberated.”

Despite fierce battles near the city, Lysychansk is not surrounded and remains under control of the army, said Ruslan Muzychuk, the Ukraine national guard spokesman.

“The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Also, in the Sloviansk direction, the enemy is attempting assault actions,” he said.

10.51pm BST

Zelenskiy urges resolve amid ‘very difficult path’ to victory

As Russia intensifies its attacks on Ukrainian cities, Volodymr Zelenskiy told citizens in his nightly address on Saturday that they must maintain their resolve. Ukraine must inflict losses on Russia “so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken”, he said.

“In many areas from the front, there is a sense of easing up, but the war is not over,” Zelenskiy said. “Unfortunately, it is intensifying in different places and we musn’t forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at this time.”

The country has endured a series of deadly strikes this week. At least 21 people were killed near Odesa when a missile hit an apartment block. On Monday, 19 people died after a shopping mall was hit.

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Local officials stand in front of a damaged residential building in the town of Serhiivka, where a Russian airstrike on residential areas killed at least 21 people. Photograph: Maxim Penko/AP

Kyiv has accused Moscow of deliberately targeting civilian sites, which Russia has denied. Russian forces have intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields in recent days, Ukrainian officials said. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops on the eastern frontlines have described intense artillery barrages hitting residential areas.

Russian strikes have killed thousands of civilians and levelled cities since the county launched its invasion of Ukraine in February.

9.44pm BST

Demonstrators took to the streets in Berlin to demand that the German government not intervene in war in Ukraine . Germany has offered support to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, sending billions in military aid and heavy weapons.

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Protesters carry a banner reading “active resistance against a third world war” during a demonstration in Berlin. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
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A protester displays a placard reading: “Nato equals war!”. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, pledged EUR 100bn for the armed forces in February, repeating his promise to reach the 2% of gross domestic product spending on defence in line with Natodemands Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
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Various anti war and anti-Nato placards during a demonstration in Berlin on 2 July 2022. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 9.46pm BST

8.14pm BST

References to Nazism in articles about Ukraine on Russian websites surged to “unprecedented levels” when Russia invaded the country, according to a New York Times report.

Throughout the war, Vladimir Putin has falsely claimed that Ukraine is run by “neo-Nazis” and that Russia is trying to “liberate” and “de-nazify” the country. Ukraine’s democratically elected leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is Jewish, and many of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust.

According to the Times, Russian media has been instrumental in the spread of false claims and propaganda in the war, including articles that falsely claim Ukrainian Nazis have used civilians as human shields and are planning the mass murder of Russians. References to Ukrainian Nazism in Russian articles have remained high since the day Russia’s invasion began.

“You see it on Russian chat groups and in comments Russians are making in newspaper articles,” Jeffrey Veidlinger, a University of Michigan professor, told the Times. “I think many Russians actually believe this is a war against Nazism.”

Russia has engaged in a harsh crackdown on both Russian and foreign independent news outlets since invading Ukraine, and passed a law that media outlets have warned criminalizes independent journalism .

Updated at 9.02pm BST

7.01pm BST

The president of Belarus has claimed, without providing evidence, that Ukraine attempted to strike military facilities on Belarusian territory earlier this week.

Reuters, citing the state-run Belta news agency, reported that Alexander Lukashenko said Ukrainian armed forces tried to strike facilities in Belarus three days ago, but that the missiles were intercepted. He claimed Ukraine was attempting to provoke Belarus, and that his country does not plan to intervene in the conflict.

Belarus, a close ally of Russia, has supported the war, allowing Moscow to use the territory to wage its war against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin recently pledged to send Belarus nuclear-capable missiles in “the coming months” and offered to provide upgraded warplanes.

Last week, Ukraine said that missiles from Belarus hit a border region in its territory.

The Ukrainian military did not immediately comment on Lukashenko’s claims.

I’m Dani Anguiano and I’ll be bringing you the latest developments in the war in Ukraine over the next few hours

Updated at 7.03pm BST

5.00pm BST

CNN reports on the volunteers deep in the eastern Ukrainian forest sleeping in earthen dugouts, primed and ready to defend against the Russian military .

Maxym is one of them, living in a wooded encampment not far from Slovyansk , with his comrades who make up Ukraine’s territorial defence. These are non-professional soldiers, most of whom signed up in the early days of Russia’s invasion in February.

He says he thinks often of his pregnant wife, back home in Kharkiv , and their unborn son.

We will kick them out of here, and he will know it: that we didn’t just stand here doing nothing. It’s our land, and they have no right to come here.

Not long after CNN’s visit, a cluster strike heavily wounded some of the soldiers.

4.40pm BST

Demonstrators gathered at the Palais des Nations in Geneva , Switzerland today to protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine .

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Protesters were dressed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA
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Blue and yellow flowers were assembled during the demonstration. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

Updated at 4.59pm BST

3.59pm BST

Today so far…

It is 6pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • Russian forces are continuing to achieve “minor advances” in the strategic city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, with air and artillery strikes continuing in the district, British intelligence says. Ukrainian forces probably continue to block Russian forces in the south-eastern outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city, according to the latest UK Ministry of Defence report.
  • Russia’s defence ministry has said its forces destroyed five Ukrainian army command posts in Donbas and in the Mykolaiv region, according to Russian state media. Three weapons storage sites were also destroyed in the Zaporizhzhia region in south-east Ukraine, the ministry was quoted as saying. These claims have not been independently verified.
  • A Briton and a Moroccan man sentenced to death by pro-Russia officials in Russian-controlled east Ukraine have appealed against their sentences, Russian state media reported. The supreme court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic has received appeals from lawyers for Brahim Saadoun and Shaun Pinner, according to the Russian state-owned news agency Tass. Another Briton sentenced to death by the Russian proxy court, Aiden Aslin, had not yet submitted an appeal, Tass reports.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, today. My colleague, Jane Clinton, will be here shortly with all the latest from Ukraine. Thank you.

Updated at 4.01pm BST

3.57pm BST

Ukrainian prisoners of war have detailed their experiences of torture and abuse while in the hands of Russian forces, while their families have described weeks of not knowing whether their loved ones were dead or alive as “hell on earth”.

The US newspaper the Hill spoke to former prisoners of war and their families about what life was like for those captured by Russian forces since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.

One former prisoner of war, Igor Kurayan, 55, said he was beaten and given electric shocks during weeks in Russian captivity.

Russian soldiers twisted and cut his fingers using pliers and metal cutting scissors, Kurayan said. Other prisoners were beaten so badly they died, he added.

A translator for Kurayan told the paper:

Every day he would be called out for the torturing and they wanted him to hand over his friends.

Anzhelika Todorashko, 32, said her mother, 52-year-old Viktoria, was captured in February for her work with the Ukrainian army. She was transported to Russia where she said she was given electric shocks, photographed naked, given little food and water, and heard screams from other prisoners asking for death, Todorashko said.

Russian soldiers would humiliate prisoners, Todorashko said, with her mother telling her that prisoners had to hold their hands above their head for hours a day. If they dropped their hands they would be beaten, she said. Soldiers also shaved the heads of the women and suffocated others.

Her mother was released weeks after being imprisoned and taken to a Ukrainian hospital, the paper writes.

Updated at 4.00pm BST

3.15pm BST

Ukraine army says Lysychansk is ‘not encircled’

The Ukrainian army has rejected claims that Russian-backed separatists and Russian forces have surrounded the key eastern city of Lysychansk.

Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television:

Fighting rages around Lysychansk. (But) luckily the city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army.

A spokesperson for the pro-Russian separatist forces earlier told Russian state media that Lysychansk was “completely encircled”.

3.10pm BST

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Pride in London march participants holding flags in support of Ukraine. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

2.44pm BST

Rescue workers have recovered as many as 29 body fragments amid the rubble of deadly Russian missile strikes on a shopping centre in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, Ukraine’s state emergency service said.

At least 19 people were killed on Monday after two Russian X-22 cruise missiles hit a crowded shopping centre in Kremenchuk, officials said. Authorities estimate there were between 200 and 1,000 people inside at the time of the attack.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine’s state emergency service said:

On 2 July, at 13:25 in Kremenchuk, debris removal works were completed at the Amstor shopping centre, which was destroyed by missile attack on 27 June.

More than 60 people were injured in the attack, including 26 people who were hospitalised, it said.

It added:

29 body fragments have been detected since the beginning of the work.

Updated at 2.51pm BST

2.13pm BST

Russian-backed separatists say they have ‘completely’ encircled Lysychansk – reports

Russian-backed separatists said they have “completely” encircled the key city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian state media.

Andrei Marotchko, a spokesperson for the pro-Russian separatist forces, told Russian state-owned news agency, Tass:

Today the Luhansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled.

These claims have not been independently verified.

Lysychansk represents the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance to Moscow’s forces in the Luhansk region, and has been under constant Russian artillery bombardments and airstrikes for weeks.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram:

Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one. With such a high density of shelling, we only have time to shelter the injured. Fires simultaneously in several places. We barely have time to eliminate large-scale fires in Lysychansk.

Updated at 3.12pm BST

2.03pm BST

Our Lorenzo Tondo and Andrew Roth have the full story of the UK foreign office’s condemnation of Russian “exploitation” of prisoners in Ukraine:

The UK government has condemned the exploitation of prisoners of war after two more British men held by Russian proxies in east Ukraine and charged with “mercenary activities” could face the death penalty.

A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office released a statement after the news that Andrew Hill of Plymouth and Dylan Healy of Huntingdon were reported to have been charged with “forcible seizure of power” and undergoing “terrorist” training, according to a state news agency in Russian-controlled Donetsk.

“We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes and have raised this with Russia ,’’ the statement said. “We are in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released.”

Hill, who was identified as a father of four from Plymouth, has been paraded on Russian television in several clips , including one that aired last month with the headline: “Exclusive – before the execution.”

In the clip, he appeared to have been informed that he may face criminal charges, saying that he was being “detained here as a suspected mercenary”.

Hill, who is reported to have previously served in the Lancaster regiment of the British army, was first shown on Russian television after his capture in late April. In the video, the 35-year-old appeared to be severely injured, with his head bandaged and his left arm in a cast and supported by a sling.

“I want to go home, to my homeland, to my family, to my children,” he said in the recent clip, which appeared to have been filmed under duress. “I just want to go home. I will tell them the truth.”

The other man, Dylan Healy, is reported to have been working in Ukraine as a humanitarian aid volunteer.

Two more Britons and a Moroccan man were sentenced to death on identical charges by the authorities in Russian-controlled Donetsk.

Related: UK Foreign Office condemns Russian ‘exploitation’ of prisoners in Ukraine

Updated at 2.31pm BST

1.29pm BST

Russian forces continue to pound Ukrainian stronghold of Luhansk, says governor

The governor of Luhansk ( see also 08:57 ) says that Russian forces are pounding the city of Lysychansk in an attempt to bring down the last stronghold of resistance in the eastern Ukraine province.

It comes after weeks of Ukrainian fighters trying to defend the city to avoid it falling to Russia as nearby Sievierodonetsk did a week ago.

The Russian defence ministry claims to have taken control of an oil refinery on the outskirts of the city in recent days.

But the governor, Serhiy Haidai, said on Friday that fighting at the facility continued.

Today, on Telegram, Haidai said: “Over the last day, the occupiers opened fire from all available kinds of weapons.”

Updated at 1.32pm BST

12.19pm BST

A series of recent assassination attempts targeting pro-Russian officials suggests a growing resistance movement against Russian-backed authorities occupying parts of southern Ukraine, according to US officials.

The resistance could grow into a wider counterinsurgency that would pose a significant challenge to Russia’s ability to control captured Ukrainian territories, CNN has cited officials as saying.

There have been three assassination attempts targeting pro-Russian officials over the past two weeks in the city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Moscow’s forces since early on in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Officials say there does not appear to be a central command behind these acts of resistance, but the attacks have increased in frequency, particularly in the Kherson region.

The US does not believe that Russia has enough forces in Kherson to effectively control the region, one US official said. Michael Kofman, director for Russia studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, said:

I think Russia is going to have significant challenges in trying to establish any sort of stable administration for these regions, because likely collaborators – more prominent ones – are going to be assassinated and others will be living in fear.

Earlier this week, the director of US national intelligence, Avril Haines, said the Kremlin “faces rising partisan activity in southern Ukraine”.

Updated at 12.43pm BST

11.59am BST

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zekenskiy, has condemned Russian missile attacks near the port of Odesa that authorities said killed at least 21 people.

Russians flattened part of the apartment building in Serhiivka while residents slept, hours after Russian troops abandoned the Black Sea outpost of Snake Island. Zelenskiy said the attacks were a “conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror”.

11.34am BST

The Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has dismissed fears that western countries are experiencing “Ukraine fatigue”.

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, warned against what he called “Ukraine fatigue” setting in around the world after visiting Kyiv. Jonhson said:

When Ukraine fatigue is setting in, it is very important to show that we are with them for the long haul and we are giving them the strategic resilience that they need.

Podolyak, who is also head of Ukraine’s delegation team, tweeted:

Forget about ‘Ukraine fatigue’. The world is not tired of supporting Ukraine. The world is tired of Russian gas blackmail, artificial crises, inflation, political assassinations, chemical weapons, terror and constant brazen lies.

Updated at 12.13pm BST

11.04am BST

UK condemns exploitation as captured Britons could face death penalty

The UK government has released a statement following the news that two more Britons held by Russian proxies could face the death penalty after being charged with fighting as mercenaries.

Britons Andrew Hill of Plymouth and Dylan Healy of Huntingdon were reported to have also been charged with “forcible seizure of power” and undergoing “terrorist” training, according to a state news agency in Russian-controlled Donetsk. The report was sourced to an anonymous official and has not been confirmed.

A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said:

We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes and have raised this with Russia.

We are in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released.

Updated at 11.27am BST

10.52am BST

Russia’s defence ministry has said its forces destroyed five Ukrainian army command posts in Donbas and in the Mykolaiv region, according to Russian state media.

Three weapons storage sites were also destroyed in the Zaporizhzhia region in south-east Ukraine, the ministry was quoted as saying.

The ministry said the Russian air force had struck a Ukrainian weapons and equipment base at a tractor factory in Kharkiv, in northeast Ukraine.

These claims have not been independently verified.

Updated at 10.55am BST

10.35am BST

In Russia’s biggest cities, there are relatively few visible signs of a war that has killed thousands and displaced millions in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Film and jazz festivals are sold out, while Moscow has taken on a “carnival feel” reminiscent of the summer it hosted the 2018 Fifa World Cup, the paper writes. Police officers in Moscow are busier handing out fines for public drinking than putting out opposition to the war.

Dima Karmanovsky, who was on holiday when Moscow’s troops invaded Ukraine on 24 February, was stunned to find the city had barely changed when he returned in April.

Karmanovsky, a DJ in Moscow who hasn’t “had this much work since before the pandemic”, said:

It really shocked me because people are trying to create this bubble of serenity around themselves, but I’m not sure this is the right way.

Another Moscow resident, a yoga instructor who had just finished an outdoor class in the city centre, said:

Some people went to fight, but what should the rest do – sit around and cry? This is normal adaptation. We live in a different world now and we have to keep living.

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Moscow has taken on a ‘carnival feel’ reminiscent of the summer it hosted the 2018 Fifa World Cup. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The paper writes that people in major Russian cities are far removed from the war because the Russian army tends to attract recruits from poorer regions. Of nearly 3,800 Russian soldiers known to have been killed in Ukraine, just eight were from Moscow and 26 from St Petersburg, according to the independent Russian website Mediazona.

As a result, the war in Ukraine has become background noise to many, one expert said. For the minority that does want to speak out, there is a feeling of hopelessness.

One dissenter said:

People don’t understand how to stop the war while in Russia. It’s difficult to watch a tragedy that you can’t stop and so we are seeing this feeling of powerlessness.

Updated at 10.41am BST

10.12am BST

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A destroyed building after being hit by a missile strike in the Ukrainian town of Serhiivka, near Odesa. Photograph: Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP/Getty Images
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An aerial view of rescue workers carrying out operations in Serhiivka. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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At least 21 people were killed in Friday’s missile attacks in Serhiivka. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated at 10.13am BST

9.50am BST

Ukraine’s armed forces have published an update on estimated Russian losses, including an additional 120 Russian troops killed on Friday.

These claims have not been independently verified.

9.39am BST

The US says it will send Ukraine two Nasams surface-to-air missile systems, four additional counter-artillery radars and up to 150,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition as part of its latest weapons packages.

The package, worth about $820m (£677m) was announced by the US president, Joe Biden, on Thursday following a gathering of Nato leaders in Madrid.

The Pentagon formalised the announcement on Friday, adding that the latest round of assistance will also include more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (Himars).

Updated at 9.42am BST

9.24am BST

Two more Britons captured in Ukraine could face death penalty

Two more Britons held by Russian proxies in east Ukraine have been charged with fighting as mercenaries, Russian state media have reported, indicating that they could face the death penalty in a probable attempt to pressure western countries to make a deal for their freedom.

Britons Andrew Hill of Plymouth and Dylan Healy of Huntingdon were reported to have also been charged with “forcible seizure of power” and undergoing “terrorist” training, according to a state news agency in Russian-controlled Donetsk. The report was sourced to an anonymous official and has not been confirmed.

Two Britons and a Moroccan man were sentenced to death on identical charges by the authorities in Russian-controlled Donetsk last month. No date has been set for the sentences to be carried out, and at least two of the men are appealing against the verdict.

Hill, who was identified as a father of four from Plymouth, has been paraded on Russian television in several clips , including one that aired last month with the headline: “Exclusive – before the execution.”

In the clip, he appeared to have been informed that he may face criminal charges, saying that he was being “detained here as a suspected mercenary”. Hill, who is reported to have previously served in the Lancaster regiment of the British army, was first shown on Russian television after his capture in late April.

The other man, Dylan Healy, is reported to have been working in Ukraine as a humanitarian aid volunteer. He and another British man, Paul Urey, were reported to have been detained near Zaporizhzhia in south-eastern Ukraine while driving to help a woman and two children to evacuate .

He was said to be working in Ukraine independently of any major aid organisation. A friend told ITV that he believed Healy had gone to Ukraine to “to try to help and make a difference”.

The men’s backgrounds will likely have little influence on the outcome of a trial, which are carried out in the Donetsk People’s Republic, a proxy government recognised only by Russia and Syria.

In the previous trial, all three men were convicted of fighting as mercenaries despite serving as enlisted soldiers in the 36th Marine Brigade and being entitled to the protections of the Geneva conventions.

Read the full article here.

Related: Two more Britons captured in Ukraine could face death penalty

Updated at 9.31am BST

8.57am BST

Russia achieving ‘minor advances’ around Lysychansk, says UK MoD

Russian forces are continuing to achieve “minor advances” in the strategic city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, with air and artillery strikes continuing in the district, British intelligence says.

Ukrainian forces probably continue to block Russian forces in the south-eastern outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city, according to the latest UK Ministry of Defence report.

Russia is most likely experiencing dwindling stockpiles of more accurate modern weapons, employing air-launched anti-ship missiles in a secondary land-attack role, the reports says.

Analysis of CCTV footage of the deadly strikes on a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk earlier this week shows the missile “was highly likely a Kh-32”, an upgraded version of a Soviet-era missile, it continues.

Although the Kh-32 has several performance improvements over the Kh-22, it is still not optimised to accurately strike ground targets, especially in an urban environment. This greatly increases the likelihood of collateral damage when targeting built up areas.

Further strikes on 30 June 2022 in Odesa oblast likely involved Kh-22 KITCHEN missiles. These weapons are even less accurate and unsuitable for precision strikes and have almost certainly repeatedly caused civilian casualties in recent weeks.

Updated at 9.18am BST

8.41am BST

Zelenskiy accuses Russia of ‘deliberate terror’ after missile strike kills 21

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has accused Russia of engaging in “conscious, deliberately targeted terror” after another in a series of what Kyiv says are Russian missile attacks aimed at civilians.

In his nightly video address on Friday, Zelenskiy denounced Read more – THE GUARDIAN

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