Russian cosmonauts have been photographed holding the flag of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic as they celebrate the capture of the region by Vladimir Putin’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
Sergei Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev were pictured with red, dark blue and light blue separatist flags aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The image was posted by the Russian space agency Roscosmos on the messaging app Telegram.
It describes the capture of the Luhansk region as “a liberation day to celebrate both on Earth and in space”.
Roscosmos wrote: “This is a long-awaited day for which the inhabitants of the occupied regions of the Luhansk region have been waiting for 8 years.”
In March, Mr. Artemyev, Mr. Matveyev and Mr. Korsakov were the first Russian crew members to join the ISS since the Russian invasion. Ukraine begins on February 24th.
They emerged from their Soyuz capsule in a yellow uniformseen by some as a message of solidarity with Ukraine.
But when asked about the importance of spacesuits, Artemyev explained that each crew member gets to choose their own flight suit to set themselves apart from the others.
“It was our turn to choose a color. But in reality, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material, so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow. “, I said.
Russia announced on Sunday the army took the city of Lysychanskcompleted the conquest of Luhansk, one of the two regions that make up the Donbas – which the Kremlin had demanded that Ukraine relinquish control to Moscow-backed separatists.
Over the past two months, Moscow has brought the full strength of its ground forces to shoulder a small part of the front line.
During a televised meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin congratulated Russian forces on the “victory in the Luhansk direction”.
The combatants should “absolutely rest and recover their military preparation”, while other units continue to fight in other areas, he added.
Significant victory for Russia
The capture of Luhansk marks Russia’s biggest victory in the war since captured the southern port of Mariupol at the end of May.
And this is the closest Moscow has come to one of its stated goals since its forces were defeated trying to capture the capital Kyiv in March – that of “liberating” Donbas.
Roscosmos also said: “We firmly believe that July 3, 2022, will forever be in the history of the Republic (Luhansk People).”
Ukraine has vowed to regain its lost territory, saying its troops have withdrawn from the last remaining fortress in the area to save their soldiers’ lives.
Kyiv said its forces would regroup to launch a counterattack with the support of long-range weapons from Western countries.
After being repulsed in its initial attempt to capture Kyiv, Russia has focused on driving Ukrainian forces out of the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in these two regions since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
Moscow hopes that the withdrawal of Ukraine will provide an impetus for Russian forces to move further west into the neighboring Donetsk region, where Ukraine still holds the cities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut.