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

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

“Sergei Shoigu has informed the commander in chief of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin, of the liberation of the People’s Republic of Lugansk,” 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 gaining a foothold in the city.” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said late 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 that control of the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk was the main focus of Moscow’s war.

Russian troops have blasted Lysychansk with rocket and missile attacks in the past several days, and the latest fighting comes a week after the fall of its sister city, Syevyerodonetsk, just across the Siverskiy Donets River. That city had been reduced to rubble by Russian forces prior to 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 were killed and numerous buildings damaged overnight in the regional capital in what a senior Russian lawmaker called “a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine.”

In a post on Telegram on July 3, 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 detached houses were damaged or destroyed in the overnight incident.

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

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

“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod are a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine and require the most severe — including a military — response,” Klishas wrote on Telegram.

The claims of the Russian officials could not be independently verified, and Ukraine made no immediate response. Videos posted on social media purported to show explosions and fires in the city.

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

There have been numerous reported incidents of fires and explosions in Belgorod and other regions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, but Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for any of them.

The report from Belgorod 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.

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

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

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, and dpa

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