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Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the city of Lysychansk

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Russian forces have scored a significant victory in the bitterly contested eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ukrainian officials confirm their forces withdrew from the city of Lysychansk after months of shelling and, more recently, street fighting. The victory means Russia can now turn its attention firmly to the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in neighboring Donetsk province.

MARTINEZ: Joining us now from Kremenchuk is NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, can't say everyone's surprised by this, but how important is this as a victory strategically?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Yeah, absolutely. You know, little by little, Russia's been making some steady advances in the east in recent days. You know, the latest place to fall, as you mentioned, is Lysychansk, and this follows the Ukrainian retreat last week from Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy characterized both of those as tactical retreats. But it really is clear that Russia is pushing that front line to the west and grabbing more of the Donbas, and at a significant cost. Both sides have sustained heavy losses.

Zelenskyy last night said the pullback from Lysychansk, in his words, quote, "was to preserve the lives of our soldiers." And he added defiantly, however, that Ukraine eventually will reclaim our land. But there's no doubt that this is a major victory for the Russians at the moment, and the momentum is sort of moving the Kremlin's way, at least in this part of the Donbas.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, we know Russia has a big advantage when it comes to artillery and long-range weapons. The U.S., though, has provided some of the longer-range weapons to Ukraine. Are they making a difference?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. Some of these weapons are making a difference, and some have reached the front lines, but they're arriving slowly. It's important to note that much of Ukraine's artillery before this war was Soviet-era equipment, which they simply can't get ammunition or spare parts for now. So getting ahold of these Western weapons, Ukrainian officials say, is going to be crucial for them as this war drags on.

MARTINEZ: Now, in the past week or so, we've also seen increase in the number of Russian missile attacks all over Ukraine, and attacks have come striking civilian targets, and many people have died. Tell us more about those.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, well, I'm here in Kremenchuk, where a cruise missile slammed into a shopping mall last week, killing 21 people, injuring dozens more. Another series of strikes on Friday hit an apartment building and a recreation center near Odessa. That left another 21 people dead.

I was talking to Oleksandra Matviichuk. She's the head of the Center for Civil Liberties here in Ukraine. And she says these attacks on civilians are not accidents. She says this is part of how Russia conducts war.

OLEKSANDRA MATVIICHUK: They really think that they can do whatever they wanted and they can say whatever they wanted. And they have never been punished for these war crimes for decades.

BEAUBIEN: You know, Russian officials here claim that these were both precision strikes on military targets. They say the mall that they hit - and it was in the middle of the afternoon at rush hour - was nonfunctioning, that it was shut down. A second missile, however, did strike the edge of a manufacturing plant that was adjacent to the mall, and that's probably what they were aiming for.

You know, but despite these claims from the Kremlin that civilian casualties are fake, we've been interviewing people who are still hospitalized with burns and wounds from the flying debris at the mall. One man we met, he lost his wife, and he had his right arm amputated because the mall blew up around him. Matviichuk says she expects we're going to see more of these attacks on civilians in the coming weeks in an effort to wear down the Ukrainian public and push Zelenskyy to the bargaining table for peace talks.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.