Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced the full liberation of the key town of Lyman in the north of the Donetsk region after the Russian troops withdrew from the area.
“As of 12:30 (0930 GMT), Lyman is fully cleared,” Zelensky said in a short video clip published on his social media channels on Sunday.
Ukrainian government forces said a day earlier that they had retaken the town of Lyman, dealing a heavy blow to the Russian troops and making them withdraw from their months-long stronghold.
The capture of the key bastion came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree for the formal accession of the four regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to the Russian Federation. Presiding over a signing ceremony with the Russian-installed heads of the four regions at the Kremlin, Putin said people in these regions are now considered Russian citizens as they have made their choice in referendums.
The Russian president said Ukraine has to respect the will of the people. Putin also vowed to defend the Russian land with all means.
Kiev and the West condemned the signing ceremony and the accession as “illegitimate.”
Germany, Denmark, and Norway to give Ukraine howitzers
Separately on Sunday, the governments of Germany, Denmark and Norway said they had plans to supply Ukraine with 16 armored howitzer artillery systems from next year to boost Kiev’s military effectiveness against Russia.
The announcement came after German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht visited Ukraine this weekend for the first time since Moscow’s military operation in the former Soviet republic in February.
Lambrecht said Germany, Denmark and Norway had agreed to jointly finance the procurement of the Slovakian Zuzana-2 guns at a cost of 92 million euros ($90.2 million), adding that they would be produced in Slovakia and the delivery to Ukraine would begin in 2023.
Defending Berlin’s weapons deliveries to Ukraine, Lambrecht said Germany “will continue to engage in a variety of ways and will again — as we have up until now — work together with partners.”
The German defense minister, however, insisted that Berlin would not become a direct party to the conflict.
“It is very clear – for the German government as well as the whole of NATO: We will not become a party to the war," Lambrecht said.
Russian forces destroy seven artillery depots in Ukraine
Russia’s Defense Ministry also said on Sunday its forces had destroyed seven artillery and missile depots in the Ukrainian regions of Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Donetsk.
The ministry said the guidance radar for an S-300 air defense missile system had also been destroyed near Nova Kaluha in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
Putin announced Russia’s military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the 2014 Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
At the time, the Russian leader said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, as well as to defend people “who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Back in 2014, the republics broke away from Ukraine, refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government there that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.
In response to the military operation, the US and its European allies have imposed waves of economic sanctions on Moscow, which has spawned the worst energy crisis in the world.
At the same time, Western states have been supplying Ukraine with advanced weapons and funds in a move that Moscow has repeatedly warned will only prolong the simmering conflict, which is now into its eighth month.
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