Ukrainian forces appear to have opened a new front against Russian defenses on the border of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The head of the regional military administration for Luhansk, Serhiy Hayday, posted a message indicating that the city of Lysychansk was the target of the new offensive.
The city was lost to Russian forces and their allied militia after weeks of fierce fighting in June.
Hayday posted: “Lysychansk, a great Ukrainian city. There will be a lot of reconstruction work.”
Hayday later told Ukrainian media outlets Suspilne and Channel 5 that Ukrainian units had reached the outskirts of the city of Lysychansk.
CNN is unable to confirm his claim.
Lysychansk was the last city of any consequence to have been captured by the Russians, but they subsequently failed to make further advances into the neighboring Donetsk region.
The reported Ukrainian advance toward Lysychansk comes as Ukrainian ground forces complete a sweep through much of what was Russian-held territory in Kharkiv region, depriving the Russians of a critical front in their attack on Donetsk region.
In another sign of Ukrainian advances, the head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, admitted that the situation in northern Donetsk had become “pretty tough.”
Pushilin said on his Telegram channel that in the town of Lyman, not far from the Ukrainian-held city of Sloviansk, that “the situation is pretty tough, just like in a number of settlements in the North of the Republic.”
“However, I’m in touch with the local administrations, with emergency services and with our units. There is more information but I can not reveal it for now, as it might harm our units,” he said.
Hayday said that locals in the city of Lysychansk have reported the hasty departure of Russian officials from the city.
Speaking to CNN by phone, Hayday said that according to residents, “the occupiers, including both the collaborators and the military, are running away in a hurry.”
“Locals have videos and photos proving that,” Hayday said. He said the visual evidence could not be shared for security reasons.
Hayday also suggested that there was an exodus of pro-Russian officials and collaborators in Luhansk toward Russia. “Those from Svatove, Starobilsk, Novopskov are trying to leave, not to Luhansk, but to the border with Russia at Milove.”
CNN is unable to verify Hayday’s claim, but at least one border crossing into Russia has seen lines of vehicles forming.
Hayday also told CNN that the Russians had failed to build a defensive line in Luhansk. “Svatove, Starobilsk — this is an open rural countryside, so there’s nowhere to hide.”
He claimed Russian forces were leaving the town of Svatove. If true, it would be significant as Svatove is a key link in Russian supply lines to parts of occupied Luhansk region.
Hayday also confirmed to CNN that “partisans” had raised the Ukrainian flag in the town of Kreminna, north of Lysychansk.