Russian forces continue to press ahead with their assault on Lysychansk, with regional officials saying the situation was "very difficult" in the last Ukrainian holdout in the east as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy again called on the West to deliver more advanced heavy weapons to allow his forces to stave off Moscow's artillery onslaught.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and refugees, and Western aid and reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.
Ukraine's Armed Forces General Staff said on June 29 that Russian troops were trying to surround the hilltop city of Lysychansk, a key battleground in Moscow's attempt to conquer Ukraine's industrial heartland of Donbas.
The head of the military administration in Luhansk, where Lysychansk is situated, reported increased military action, saying there was "fighting everywhere" around the city.
"The Russians are using every weapon available to them...and without distinguishing whether targets are military or not -- schools, kindergartens, cultural institutions," Serhiy Hayday said.
"The situation in Lysychansk is very difficult," Hayday said on television.
"Everything is being destroyed. This is a scorched-earth policy."
He added that the situation in Lysychansk resembles that in its twin city Syevyerodonetsk where Russian forces started destroying building after building. Syevyerodonetsk fell to Russia on June 25.
British intelligence said that Russian forces continue to make progress in their efforts to encircle Lysychansk. It said that, since June 25, Russian forces have advanced a further 2 kilometers near the Lysychansk oil refinery, south of the town.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on June 29 that the outlook remains "pretty grim" and said Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants to take most of Ukraine.
"We continue to be in a position where we look at President Putin and we think he has effectively the same political goals that he had previously, which is to say that he wants to take most of Ukraine," Haines told a U.S. Commerce Department conference.
Haines said U.S. intelligence agencies consider the most likely scenario in the near future is that the war will become a grinding conflict in which Russian forces only make incremental gains but no breakthrough toward Putin's goal.
But the intelligence agencies are considering two other possible scenarios: a major Russian breakthrough and Ukraine succeeding in stabilizing the front lines while achieving small gains, perhaps near the Russian-held city of Kherson and other areas of southern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told NATO leaders who have gathered for a crucial summit in Madrid that Ukraine needs more advanced heavy weapons and additional financial support to stave off Russia's unprovoked invasion, warning that Moscow's ambitions won't stop with his country.
"We need to break the Russian artillery advantage...We need much more modern systems, modern artillery," Zelenskiy told a NATO summit in Madrid via video link on June 29, adding that financial support was "no less important than aid with weapons."
NATO responded by branding Russia the most "direct threat" to allied security and vowed to modernize Ukraine's military.
Zelenskiy also accused Russia of intentionally targeting civilians in Kremenchuk, where at least 18 people were killed and dozens are still missing after a missile attack on a crowded commercial center.
"A Russian missile hit this location precisely. Deliberately.... It is clear that Russian killers received those exact coordinates," Zelenskiy said in his regular evening video address. "They wanted to kill as many people."
Britain's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 29 that there is a "realistic possibility" the missile strike on the Kremenchuk shopping center was intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target.
It said that Russia’s lack of accuracy in conducting long-range strikes has previously resulted in mass civilian casualty incidents, including at the Kramatorsk railway station on April 9.
The British report said it was "highly likely" that Russian strikes will continue to cause further civilian casualties given Russia’s shortage of more modern precision strike weapons and the professional shortcomings of their targeting planners.
The mayor of the southern city of Mykolayiv, Oleksandr Senkevych, said a missile strike killed at least three people in a residential building in the city on June 29 in an attack that Russia said was meant to destroy a training base for foreign fighters. The regional governor said later the number of dead was four.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, toward Ukraine's east, the head of the regional administration, Valentyn Reznychenko, said on June 29 that the bodies of a man and a woman had been found buried under the rubble of a building that was hit by a Russian missile the previous day..
He had earlier said that Russia had fired six missiles in the region on June 28, three of which were shot down.
Separately, the Moscow-installed military administration ruling the area around the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson said it is preparing to hold a referendum on joining Russia.
"Yes, we are preparing for a referendum -- and we will hold it," said Kirill Stremoussov, the deputy head of Kherson's military and civil administration in a video published on Telegram.
Stremoussov said Kherson should become "a full-fledged member" of Russia.
Earlier, the Russia-installed officials said their security forces had detained Kherson city Mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on June 28 after he refused to follow Moscow's orders. A local official said the mayor was kidnapped.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, CNN, and BBC