Russian troops are fighting to encircle the last bulwark of Ukraine’s resistance in an eastern province.
Moscow’s push to take control of the entire Donbas region from Ukraine is focused on Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk province.
Russian troops and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas.
The Ukrainian General Staff said that the Russian troops were shelling Lysychansk and clashing with Ukrainian defenders around an oil refinery on the edge of the city.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said that Russian reconnaissance units tried to enter Lysychansk Wednesday, but were repelled by the Ukrainian forces.
He said the Russians were trying to block a major road used to deliver supplies and fully encircle the city.
“The Russians have thrown practically all their forces to seize the city,” Mr Haidai said.
Speaking on a visit to Turkmenistan early on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his goals in Ukraine have not changed since the start of the war.
He outlined these as “the liberation of the Donbas, the protection of these people and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself”.
Mr Putin made no mention of his original stated goals to “demilitarise” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
He denied Russia had adjusted its strategy after failing to take Kyiv in the early stage of the conflict.
“As you can see, the troops are moving and reaching the marks that were set for them for a certain stage of this combat work. Everything is going according to plan,” Mr Putin said at a news conference in Turkmenistan.
Meanwhile, funerals are set to be held for some of the 18 people confirmed killed by Monday’s Russian missile strike on a busy shopping mall in Kremenchuk.
Crews continued to search through the rubble in search of another 20 people who remain missing.
Ukrainian state emergency services press officer Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that along with the 18 people killed, investigators found fragments of eight more bodies.
It was not immediately clear whether that meant there were more victims. A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.
After the attack on the mall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state. On Wednesday, he reproached Nato for not embracing or equipping his embattled country more fully.
“The open-door policy of Nato shouldn’t resemble old turnstiles on Kyiv’s subway, which stay open but close when you approach them until you pay,” Mr Zelensky told Nato leaders meeting in Madrid, speaking by video link.
“Hasn’t Ukraine paid enough? Hasn’t our contribution to defending Europe and the entire civilisation been sufficient?”
Had a phone conversation with NATO Secretary General @jensstoltenberg. Coordinated positions on the eve of the #NATOSummit in Madrid. Stressed the importance of a powerful missile defense system for Ukraine to prevent Russian terrorist attacks. #StopRussia
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) June 28, 2022
He asked for more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned the Nato leaders they either had to provide Ukraine with the help it needed to defeat Russia or “face a delayed war between Russia and yourself.”
In southern Ukraine, the death toll from Wednesday’s Russian missile strike on an apartment building in Mykolaiv rose to six, according to governor Vitaliy Kim.
Another six people were wounded.
Mykolaiv is a major port and seizing it – as well as Odesa further west – would be key to Russia’s objective of cutting off Ukraine from its Black Sea coast.