SIVERSK, Ukraine: Russia claimed on Sunday to have captured the strategic Ukrainian city of Lysychansk and the entire frontline Lugansk region which would mark a decisive breakthrough for Moscow's forces seeking control of the country's east.
The mayor of Sloviansk, 75 kilometres (45 miles) west of Lysychansk, reported on Sunday that "many" people were killed in fresh bombardment by the advancing Russian forces.
The development came as Belarus said it had intercepted missiles fired by Kyiv and Russia reported that Ukraine launched three cluster missiles at Belgorod, killing four people.
Lysychansk had been the last major city in the Lugansk area of the Donbas still in Ukrainian hands and its capture would signal a deeper push into the eastern region, Moscow's focus since retreating from Kyiv.
On Saturday, there were conflicting reports about Lysychansk's status with Ukraine denying Moscow's claim to have encircled the entire city, located across the river from neighbouring Severodonetsk which Russian forces seized last week.
Ukraine has yet to comment on the claim that Lysychansk has fallen following days of intense clashes.
"Sergei Shoigu has informed the commander in chief of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin, of the liberation of the People's Republic of Lugansk," the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.
A few minutes prior to the announcement, which AFP has not verified, a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry had said fighting was ongoing in Lysychansk and that Ukrainian forces were "completely" surrounded.
In Siversk, 30 kilometres west of Lysychansk, there was overnight shelling, residents and an official told AFP.
"It was intense and it was shooting from all sides," said a woman sheltering in a cellar.
Russia's claim of a breakthrough came as Moscow said Sunday its anti-aircraft defences shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by "Ukrainian nationalists" against Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 11 residential buildings and 39 houses were damaged.
Russia has previously accused Kyiv of conducting strikes on Russian soil, particularly in the Belgorod region.
Separately, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accused Kyiv of "provoking" his country and said his army
intercepted missiles fired at his country by Ukrainian forces "around three days ago".
Belarus is a long-term Russian ally that supported the February 24 invasion and has been accused by Kyiv of launching its own attacks on Ukrainian territory.
But Lukashenko denied any involvement in a recent cross-border incident, which would represent an escalation of the conflict.
"As I said more than a year ago, we do not intend to fight in Ukraine," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Belta on Saturday.
Missiles continued to rain down across Ukraine, killing dozens, and fierce fighting continued according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
"Fierce fighting continues along the entire frontline, in Donbas," he said in an address late Saturday, adding that "enemy activity in the Kharkiv region is intensifying".
Two people were killed and three wounded -- including two children -- in a strike on the town of Dobropillya, local authorities in Donetsk said.
A Ukrainian official said Sunday that his country's forces had "put out of action" a Russian military base in Melitopol, while the Ukrainian army said the air force had taken out around 20 Russian units and two ammunition depots.
"The town of Melitopol is covered in smoke," said the official, the city's exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov.
Zelenskyy warned against complacency in cities that have been spared the violence seen in others.
"The war is not over," he said.
In his address, Zelenskyy also spoke about a conference on Ukraine's reconstruction set to start Monday in Switzerland.
Leaders from dozens of countries and international organisations will gather in the city of Lugano with the aim of providing
a roadmap for the war-ravaged country's recovery.
Zelenskyy said "colossal investments" would be needed and that 10 regions of Ukraine had been affected in the war, with many towns and villages needing to be "rebuilt from scratch".
Ukraine will also face demands for broad reforms, especially in cracking down on corruption.
The need for reforms had been underscored by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who has said the coveted European Union membership was "within reach" for Ukraine, but urged Kyiv to work on anti-corruption measures.
In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia's invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine's ports seized, razed or blockaded -- sparking concerns about food shortages, particularly in poor countries.
Farmer Sergiy Lyubarsky, whose fields are close to the frontline, warned time was running out to harvest this year's crop.
"We can wait until August 10 at the latest, but after that, the grains are going to dry out and fall to the ground," he said.
Western powers have accused Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.