Russia scored an apparent victory in its brutal invasion of Ukraine on Sunday as the besieged nation’s troops withdrew from the key city of Lysychansk in the east.

Ukrainian forces left following intense bombardment as Russia gained control of Lysychansk and the rest of the Luhansk region, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

“The continuation of the defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences,” Ukrainian military officials were quoted as saying by The New York Times. “In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw.”

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces had huge advantages in terms of both firepower and manpower.

Since withdrawing from the region around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, in the spring, Russian forces have concentrated their attacks on the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which make up the area known as Donbas.

Capturing Lysychansk would mean a major step toward conquering the entire Donbas, where Ukrainian forces have battled Russian-backed separatists since 2014. The conflict reached new heights on Feb. 24, when Russia launched its invasion and stepped up hostilities.

Ukrainian forces will return to Lysychansk, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed.

“We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” he said. “Ukraine does not give anything up.”

Zelenskyy got in some digs at Russian President Vladimir Putin about his promise of a quick and easy victory prior to the start of the invasion.

“Let them remember their reports and promises before Feb. 24, in the first days of this invasion, in the spring and now,” Zelenskyy said. “Let them really evaluate what they got over this time and how much they paid for it.”

Nevertheless, the apparent capture of Lysychansk — the last city in Luhansk held by Ukraine, the Times noted — positions Russian forces to march on to other key cities like Sloviansk. At least six people were killed by shelling there, the BBC reported.

In recent weeks, Western leaders have grappled with the challenge of maintaining support for Ukraine as the war grinds on.

On Friday, the U.S. announced $820 million in additional military aid, on top of billions of dollars Washing has already sent. The Treasury Department also blocked a $1 billion U.S.-based trust linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Abusaidovich Kerimov, the latest in a series of economic moves with both symbolic and strategic importance.

“We are going to support Ukraine as long as it takes,” President Biden said at a NATO summit last week in Madrid.

“Russia, in fact, has already lost its international standing,” he said. “Russia is in a position where the whole world is looking and saying, ‘Wait a minute, all this effort — you tried to take the whole country. You tried to take Kyiv. You lost. You’ve tried to take the Donbas and all of it. You haven’t done that yet.’ ”

But the apparent capture of Lysychansk marked a major moral and military blow to Ukraine.

“It’s like a knife to the heart,” resident Ivan Shybkov told the Times. “Our emotions are not a switch that can be switched off. Therefore, of course, it hurts us a lot.”

Amid the horrifying violence claiming thousands of civilian lives, a war of words has transpired between Western leaders and Putin.

Last week, bigwigs from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies joked about posing shirtless for a group photo in Germany, a dig at Putin’s proclivity for macho pics.

“I don’t know how they wanted to get undressed, above or below the waist,” Putin told reporters in Moscow. “But I think it would be a disgusting sight in any case.”

With News Wire Services

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