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Russia has claimed control over the last Ukrainian stronghold in an eastern province that is key to achieving a major goal of Moscow’s grinding war.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s military reported on Sunday (Monday AEST) that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk in Luhansk province. President Volodymr Zelenskyy acknowledged the withdrawal but said the fight for the city was still raging on its outskirts.

If confirmed, Russia’s complete seizure of Luhansk would provide its troops with a stronger base from which to press their advance in the Donbas, a region of mines and factories that President Vladimir Putin is bent on capturing in a campaign that could determine the course of the entire war.

Russian forces pounded the city of Lysychansk during an all-out attempt to seize the last stronghold of resistance in in eastern Ukraine. (AP)

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that Russia’s troops, with a local separatist militia, “have established full control over the city of Lysychansk” and now hold all of Luhansk, according to a ministry statement published on Sunday.

As is typical with such descriptions, the Russian statement characterised the victories as “the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic.”

Separatists in Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk, which make up the Donbas and are home to significant Russian-speaking populations, declared independence from Kyiv in 2014 and their forces have battled Ukrainian troops there ever since.

Russia formally recognised the self-proclaimed republics days before its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

In this handout photo released by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service, a Russian SU-25 ground attack jet fires rockets on a mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (AP)

Ukrainian and Russian forces fought fiercely for Lysychansk in recent days after the neighbouring city fell last week.

The capture of Lysychansk would give the Russians more territory from which to intensify attacks on Donetsk.

In recent weeks, Russian forces were thought to hold about half of Donetsk, but it’s not clear where things stand now.

Fire burns at a shopping mall in Sloviansk, Ukraine, after it was struck by a Russian missile. (Getty)

If Russia prevails in the Donbas, Ukraine would lose not only land but perhaps the bulk of its most capable military forces, opening the way for Moscow to grab more territory and strengthen its ability to dictate terms to Kyiv.

Since failing to take Kyiv and other areas in northern and central Ukraine early in the war, Russia has focused on the Donbas, unleashing fierce shelling and engaging in house-to-house combat that devastated Lysychansk, neighbouring Sievierodonetsk and nearby villages.

Few details emerged from either city during the battles, which decimated their populations as people were killed or fled.

It was just an ordinary day at the shops

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