Russia claimed Sunday to have overwhelmed the last major city in Ukraine's Luhansk province as it continues its assault on the battered nation's eastern Donbas region.
The Russian military and the militia of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic LPR "have established full control over Lysychansk and a number of nearby settlements," the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Ukraine's General Staff of the military reported that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the fight for the city was not over.
Lysychansk's misery comes one week after the sister city of Sievierodonetsk came under complete Russian control following a brutal, weekslong struggle. Completing the invasion of Luhansk would allow Russia to turn its attention to Donetsk, the other province in the industrial Donbas region.
Russia already controls more than half of the Donetsk as well.
►Fearing Russia might cut off natural gas, Germany’s top energy official urged property owners to have gas boilers and radiators adjusted to maximize efficiency. Federal Network Agency President Klaus Mueller says families should decide “whether every room needs to be set at its usual temperature” this winter.
►Fires were burning across the Donetsk city of Sloviansk after Russian shelling killed at least six people and wounded several more, Mayor Vadim Lyakh said.
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British say Russia likely to rig voting in Kherson
Russian-backed officials who say they will hold a referendum on Kherson province joining the Russian Federation by autumn are likely prioritizing a "pseudo-constitutional vote" to legitimize its control of the region, the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment of the war released Sunday. Kherson is in southern Ukraine just above Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014.
"Finding a constitutional solution for the occupation is likely a priority policy objective for Russia," the assessment said. "It will highly likely be prepared to rig voting to achieve an acceptable result."
Russian diplomats depart Bulgaria amid soaring tensions
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.
Filip Voskresenski, a high-ranking Russian diplomat, told journalists at the airport in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia before the flights left that he was among the 70 Russian diplomatic staff declared “persona non grata” last week and ordered to leave the country by the end of Sunday.
Bulgaria’s expulsion decision was announced by acting Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who took a strong stance against Russia after it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Petkov, who lost a no-confidence vote on June 22, has claimed Moscow used “hybrid war” tactics to bring down his government.
Petkov has said that Russia will retain 43 of its employees after the expulsion and noted that Bulgaria has just 12 diplomatic staff in Moscow.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russia claims control of Lysychansk, Luhansk: Live Ukraine updates