Few civilians, charred buildings in Ukraine's Lysychansk after capture by Russia

A view shows a public building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine July 4, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Up-ended Ukrainian police cars, riddled with bullets, hulking local government buildings scorched and holed by shells and the damaged golden dome of an Orthodox church.

A Reuters reporter in Lysychansk, captured on Sunday by Russia and its separatist allies, found few residents in a city that was once home to nearly 100,000 people and widespread destruction, testament to the ferocity of the battle to take it.

A few civilians, all women, surveyed the damage, armoured vehicles manned by Russian-backed forces trundled around the streets and the red Soviet victory banner - a World War Two symbol adopted by Russian forces - hung above the entrance of a wrecked local government building, the offices inside exposed to the elements.

The fall of Lysychansk to Russia and its proxies was hailed as an important moment by Moscow which is now in total control of the wider Luhansk region, one of the aims of what President Vladimir Putin calls his "special military operation" to eliminate what he has cast as a dangerous threat.

For Ukraine, the city's capture was a painful defeat in what it says is an unjustified war of aggression designed to take swathes of its territory and leave it smaller and weaker.

It says the city is of little strategic value and that it was able to hold off Russian forces trying to take it and a nearby city for weeks while it took back some territory in the south of the country.

In Lysychansk on Monday, a Reuters reporter who visited with the help of the self-proclaimed Russia-backed Luhansk People's Republic, found a city that, bar the sounds of birds, was eerily quiet in some places after most of its residents fled.

Olga, a 67-year-old pensioner who had stayed behind, welcomed the new-found calm.

"The situation is good now. We are only afraid of it (the fighting) coming back," she said, saying the first thing she wanted to do was to visit her children in Russia.

Otherwise, she said her goal was "to stay alive".

In other parts of the city, a scorched grey brick local government building sporting the Ukrainian emblem stood empty, its upper floors missing windows.

Burnt out cars littered the streets with the wreckage of at least two police patrol vehicles, one upside down, its windscreen riddled with bullets.

A long low-slung shopping centre had many of its glass-panelled windows blasted out and the golden dome of an Orthodox church was holed with the roof beneath it stripped back to its metal frame.

Some signs of the city's Ukrainian identity remained: a small pile of bedraggled Ukrainian passports inside the roofless local prosecutor's office and a Ukrainian flag abandoned on a road not far from a crumpled van.

(Reporting by Reuters reporter; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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