Ukrainian troops have “almost left” the heavily contested eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, after weeks of fierce fighting, the mayor of the town says.
The retreat came a day after regional authorities said Ukraine was set to withdraw its troops from Sievierodonetsk.
Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television on Saturday, “Unfortunately, they have almost left the city.”
The head of Russia’s Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, also said on Saturday that Sievierodonetsk’s industrial zone and airport had been “fully liberated.”
The capture of Sievierodonetsk would bring Russia to full control of Lugansk.
The governor of the Lugansk region Sergiy Gaiday said on Saturday that Russian forces are advancing on the twin city of Lysychansk.
“Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn't make sense,” said Gaiday.
After taking control of Lugansk, Russians would be able to push further into Ukraine's industrial heartland of Donbas.
Russia has recognized the breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk as independent countries. President Vladimir Putin launched the military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement Moscow’s recognition of the two regions.
At the time, the Russian president said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. The military operation has led to heightened tensions between Russia and the West, with the United States and its allies slapping unprecedented sanctions on Moscow.