POKROVSK, Ukraine –

Russian forces tried Monday to deepen their offensive in eastern Ukraine after seizing control of a key stronghold.

The Ukrainian army confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk province, one of the two regions that make up the eastern industrial heartland of the country of Donbas. The Russians also control about half of Donetsk, the second province of Donbas.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian army said that Russian forces were currently concentrating their efforts on advancing towards the Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut line in the Donetsk region.

The Russian military has also stepped up shelling of the main Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region.

On Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Sloviansk and 19 others were injured, according to local authorities. Kramatorsk was also criticized on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made capturing the entire Donbas a key objective in his war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Putin’s defense minister informed him on Sunday that the Russian military and its separatist allies now control the entire Luhansk region after taking “full control” of Lysychansk.

In his late-night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the pullout but vowed that Ukrainian forces will fight their way back.

“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points on the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increased supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.

Since failing to capture Kyiv and other areas in northeastern Ukraine earlier in the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing fierce bombardment and engaging in house-to-house fighting that devastated cities in the region.

As Moscow pushed forward with its offensive in eastern Ukraine, areas in western Russia came under fire on Sunday in a resurgence of apparently sporadic Ukrainian attacks across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region in western Russia said fragments from an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people on Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

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Associated Press writers Maria Grazia Murru and Oleksandr Stashevskyi contributed from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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