5 Updates on the Russia-Ukraine war


1. Lysychansk prepares for battle

Soldiers in Lysychansk, eastern Ukraine, are digging in Saturday, amid heavy shelling. 

The city is bracing itself for possible street fighting as Russian forces clash with Ukrainian troops in Sievierodonetsk, which lies directly opposite across the Donets River.

Ukrainian forces were seen by AFP journalists digging trenches to serve as firing posts and erecting barricades with barbed wire and branches in central Lysychansk, a strategic city in the Donbas region. 

Burnt-out cars were also being dragged by tractors in an attempt to block off streets, with the din of fighting clearly audible from the other side of the river. 

“There could be shooting here soon,” said local resident Jaconda as she tried to convince a reluctant man to leave his home. “You can end up surrounded,” she warned. “There would be no life here, but if you are evacuated, you will at least be safe and sound.”

Earlier in the week, a Russian missile strike on the city’s House of Culture left four people dead and burnt down the Stalin-era building.  

A mother and daughter were killed, along with a young man and a pregnant woman. All had been sheltering there, having lost their homes in the fighting.


2. Streets fill for funeral of prominent activist killed in action

Hundreds gathered in Kyiv Saturday for the funeral of Roman Ratushny, a Ukrainian civic and environmental activist, who died in battle.

Huge crowds flocked to Kyiv’s Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery for the 24-year-old’s ceremony, with many carrying flowers and Ukrainian flags on their backs. 

Ratushny, a scout, was killed during a combat operation on 9 June near Izyum, in the Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces are facing the Russian army. 

A gathering is scheduled for midday Saturday on Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital, after Ratushny will be buried in the Baikove cemetery, the resting place of many Ukrainian notables. 

Tributes poured in for the young activist after his death was announced last week, with the NGO he headed Let’s Save Protasiv Yar saying he was “our best.”

Ratushny was one of the student demonstrators beaten by the police on the first evening of Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution, which led to the ousting of Russian-leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. 

He later became a famous activist. 

3. Russians consolidate their hold on Serpents’ Island

The Russian army has tightened its grip on Serpents’ Island in the Black Sea by deploying several defence systems. 

Satellite images released this week show that several surface-to-air defence systems have been placed on the rocky islet off the Ukrainian and Romanian coasts, with Russian ships positioned nearby to further strengthen their defensive shield. 

Russia’s beefing up of its military presence at the strategic point comes amid the delivery of new artillery systems to Ukraine, which will increase its ability to strike targets further away. 

“The Russians have deployed several anti-aircraft systems on the island covering different threat spectra, SA-13, Pantsir, Tor, ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns”, said Pierre Grasser, a Russian security specialist at Sorbonne University, France.

“They have consolidated their position recently, by deploying different ground-to-air systems, on the island and on buildings positioned around the island,” said a French military source on the condition of anonymity.

“Strategically, this makes sense, even in the face of new means from Ukraine.”

Ukraine has recently been given several mobile artillery systems by the West that would allow it to hit targets at least 30 km (18 miles) from its shoreline. 

4. Missing US foreign fighters shown on Russian TV

A Russian television channel has broadcast footage of two US volunteers fighting with Ukrainian forces who had been missing for several days.

US president Joe Biden told reporters on Friday that he did not know the whereabouts of the two men, Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, adding that “Americans should not go to Ukraine.”

Friday evening, the Russian journalist Roman Kosarev — who works with the Russian public broadcaster RT — posted on Telegram a video of one of the two Americans, speaking in front of the camera.

“Mum, I just want to tell you that I’m alive and hope to get home as soon as I can,” said Drueke, in military fatigues and seemingly seated in an office.

“Love Diesel for me, I love you,” he added, concluding his video with a wink. Diesel is the name of his dog, according to US media. 

The circumstances under which the two men were speaking, and who is holding them, remain unclear at this stage.

Relatives of the two former US soldiers have not heard from them since last week. 

5. Russia frees captive medic who filmed Mairupol horror

A celebrated Ukrainian medic who documented the devasting bloodshed in Mariupol was freed by Russian forces Friday, after being taken captive three months ago. 

Yuliia Paievska, who goes by the moniker of Taira in Ukraine, recorded some 260 gigabytes of her team’s efforts to save the wounded, including both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, in the besieged southern city.

The footage, recorded using a body camera, was smuggled out of Mariupol by journalists at the Associated Press. 

One of whom fled with it embedded in a tampon on 15 March.

“It was such a great sense of relief,” said Taira’s husband, Vadim Puzanov. “Those sound like such ordinary words … I don’t even know what to say.” 

Taira and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on 16 March, the same day a Russian airstrike hit a theatre in the city centre, killing several hundred people.