On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in the eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk one day after Ukrainian soldiers withdrew from the area's final bastion of resistance.
Monday's televised meeting between Putin and Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu revealed that Russian forces had gained control of Luhansk, which, along with the adjoining Donetsk province, forms up the industrial core of Donbas in Ukraine.
Shoigu informed Putin that "the operation" had been concluded after Russian troops captured Lysychansk, the last Ukrainian position in Luhansk.
Putin stated that the armed troops that "participated in active hostilities and achieved success, victory" in Luhansk "should rest, enhance their combat capabilities."
After the Ukrainian military acknowledged on Sunday that its soldiers had retreated from Lysychansk, Putin's statement came as Russian forces attempted to press their attack deeper into eastern Ukraine. On Monday, the governor of Luhansk, Serhii Haidai, stated that the Ukrainian troops withdrew from the city to prevent being encircled.
"There was a risk of Lysychansk being encircled," Haidai told the Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops may have hung out for a few more weeks but may have paid a price that was too high.
"We were able to conduct a centralized withdrawal and evacuate all of the injured," added Haidai. "At this point, withdrawal was well-organized because we have returned all equipment."
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russian forces are currently concentrating on advancing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka, and Bakhmut in the Donetsk area, of which Russia controls around half. Deeper in Donetsk, the Russian military has continued its bombardment of the important Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
According to local authorities, six persons, including a 9-year-old girl, were murdered, and 19 others were injured on Sunday due to the Russian bombardment of Sloviansk. Kramatorsk was also attacked on Sunday.
Monday's intelligence report from the British Ministry of Defense confirmed the Ukrainian military's assessment, stating that Russian forces will "almost certainly" shift their focus to seizing Donetsk. According to the briefing, the Donbas combat has been "grueling and attritional" and is unlikely to alter in the coming weeks.
According to military observers, while the Russian army has a large advantage in weaponry, it does not have a considerable edge in the number of personnel. This indicates that Moscow lacks the resources for rapid territorial gains and can only approach slowly, relying on artillery and rocket barrages to weaken Ukrainian defenders.
In the fifth month of his campaign in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin made seizing the whole Donbas region a primary objective. Since 2014, when they declared independence from Kyiv following Russia's invasion of Crimea, Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have engaged Ukrainian forces in combat. Russia formally acknowledged the self-proclaimed republics days before invading Ukraine on February 24.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the withdrawal but pledged that Ukrainian forces would battle their way back.
"If the command of our army withdraws troops from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire advantage, this is especially true for Lysychansk, it can only mean one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics and the increased supply of modern weapons," Zelenskyy stated.
Since failing to conquer Kyiv and other places in the northeast of Ukraine early in the conflict, Russia has focused on Donbas, launching heavy shelling and engaged in house-to-house combat that has devastated the region's cities.
Russia's invasion has also wreaked havoc on Ukraine's agricultural sector, interrupting the supply chains of seed and fertilizer needed by Ukrainian farmers and preventing the export of grain, the country's primary source of revenue.
In its intelligence report released Monday, the British Ministry of Defense cited the Russian blockade of the vital Ukrainian port of Odesa as severely curtailed grain exports. As a result, they estimated that Ukraine's agricultural exports would only achieve 35% of the 2021 total this year.
As Moscow advanced its onslaught across eastern Ukraine on Sunday, occasional apparent Ukrainian attacks over the border resurfaced in western Russia. Sunday, four persons were killed by fragments of a Ukrainian rocket, according to the governor of the Belgorod area in western Russia. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, two Ukrainian drones were shot down in the Russian city of Kursk.