The regional governor stated that Ukraine was about to withdraw its forces from the destroyed city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of street fighting and bombardment, which would be a significant gain for Russia as it grinds out its attack in the east.
Russian troops have also captured a town approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles) to the south, both reported on Friday, as Moscow closed in on the last slivers of Ukrainian-held territory in the industrial district of Luhansk.
Moscow has surrounded approximately 2,000 Ukrainian and "foreign" forces in the region. Reuters was unable to corroborate any of the accounts from the battlefield independently.
Four months to the day when Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed tens of thousands of troops across the border, starting a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions, and left entire cities to ashes, the reports were released.
If implemented, the withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk would be the most significant setback for Ukraine since the loss of Mariupol in May.
The latest Russian advances appeared to move the Kremlin closer to gaining complete control of Luhansk, one of Moscow's avowed war aims. They paved the way for Sievierodonetsk's twin city Lysychansk to become the next primary battleground.
The regional governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Gaidai, stated that troops in Sievierodonetsk had already received the order to relocate.
"Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense," stated Gaidai on Ukrainian television.
'Red Flag Flying'
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 but abandoned an early push on the capital city of Kyiv in the face of robust Western-backed resistance.
Since then, Moscow and its proxies have concentrated on the south and Donbas, an eastern province comprised of Luhansk and its neighbor Donetsk, unleashing overwhelming firepower in some of the most intense ground fighting in Europe since World War II.
Ukrainian forces had resisted at Sievierodonetsk for weeks, attempting to wear down Russian forces through attrition and gain time for the arrival of heavy weapon supplies.
"Because there was virtually nothing left to protect, our men were forced to retire and undertake a tactical retreat. There was no city remaining, and we could not allow them to be surrounded, "Oleksander Musiyenko, a military expert based in Kyiv, stated.
In a phone chat with his US counterpart on Friday, Ukraine's top general Valeriy Zaluzhniy stated that Kyiv required "fire parity" with Moscow to stabilize the situation in Luhansk.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported that the Russians attempted to gain total control by surrounding Lysychansk and launching attacks on Sievierodonetsk. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, however, declined to comment on Gaidai's remarks regarding a withdrawal.
According to the mayor of Hirske, Oleksandr Babchenko, Russian troops captured the surrounding territory and reached the town of Hirske on Friday.
"There is a red flag flying over the municipal administration (in Hirske)," a regional administration spokeswoman told Reuters via telephone.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had captured Hirske and the adjacent town of Zolote after a "rout" of Ukrainian troops. It had previously claimed that it had surrounded up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers, including 80 foreign fighters, near Hirske.
Vitaly Kiselev, an official in the separatist Luhansk People's Republic's Interior Ministry - only recognized by Russia - told Russia's TASS news agency that there were approximately 4,500 Ukrainian service members in the territory taken over by Russian and separatist forces in Hirske. Still, he did not specify what had happened to them.
Kiselev stated that it would take another week and a half to gain complete control of Lysychansk and that an undetermined number of individuals remained holed up inside the Azot chemical facility in Sievierodonetsk and refused to evacuate.
The Ukrainian armed forces general staff said that its troops achieved some success in the southern Kherson region, forcing the Russians to retreat from defensive positions near the village of Olhine in the most recent of numerous counterattacks.
A school in Avdiivka, a town in the Donetsk region barely inside Ukrainian-held territory, was destroyed by Russian bombardment, as shown by Ukrainian media. The school served as a first-aid center, and the attack damaged medicine and other supplies.
Reuters was unable to corroborate the fighting's specifics.
Arms and Defense
The Ukrainian foreign minister minimized the potential loss of additional Donbas territory.
"Putin intended to capture Donbas by May 9, and we are (there) on June 24 and are still engaged in combat. The loss of a few battles does not necessarily result in the loss of the war "In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, Dmytro Kuleba stated:
Russia asserts that it dispatched troops to Ukraine to damage its southern neighbor's military capabilities and weed out individuals it deemed to be dangerous nationalists.
This week, the West bolstered its backing for Ukraine, which claims Russia has launched an imperialistic land grab.
European leaders approved Ukraine's formal application to join the European Union, a move Russia said would have harmful repercussions and amount to the EU "enslaving" its neighbors.
In an interview with NBC News, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky committed to fighting for the release of two American veterans taken – according to Russian state media – by Russian-backed troops, expressing gratitude that the soldiers had come to fight for Ukraine.
The war has significantly impacted the global economy and European security arrangements, driving up the prices of gas, oil, and food, compelling the EU to lessen its heavy reliance on Russian energy, and pressuring Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
The UN nuclear inspector has expressed growing concern for the safety of Ukrainian employees at Europe's largest nuclear power plant, the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia atomic power facility in southeastern Ukraine.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has stated for months that Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian personnel is running a nuclear power station under the command of Russian troops, constitutes a safety risk and that it wishes to dispatch a mission there.