RUSSIA/UKRAINE: Ukrainian forces continued to push north in the Kharkiv region and advance to its south and east, a Ukrainian army chief said on Sunday, a day after their rapid gains forced Russia to abandon its main stronghold in the region.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed Ukraine’s advance in the northeastern province of Kharkiv as a potential breakthrough in the six-month-old war, saying this winter could bring faster territory gains if Kyiv acquires more powerful weapons.
“In the direction of Kharkiv, we have started to advance not only to the south and east, but also to the north. There are 50 km left to the state border (with Russia),” Ukraine’s commander-in-chief General Valery Zaluzhny said in Telegram.
He said the country’s armed forces had regained control of more than 3,000 km2 (1,158 sq mi) since the beginning of this month.
Earlier, Moscow abandoned its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine yesterday following the sudden collapse of one of the war’s main front lines after a rapid advance by Ukrainian forces.
The rapid fall of Izium in Kharkiv province was Moscow’s worst defeat since March, when its troops were forced back from the capital, Kyiv. This could prove to be a decisive turning point in the 6-month-old war, which has seen thousands of Russian soldiers abandon stockpiles of ammunition and equipment as they flee.
Russian forces have used Izium as a logistics base for one of their main campaigns, a months-long assault from the north on the adjacent Donbas region, which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The state-run TASS news agency quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the area and step up operations elsewhere in neighbouring Donetsk.
The head of the Russian administration in Kharkiv told residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to “save lives”, TASS reported. Witnesses described traffic jams of cars with people leaving Russian-held territory.
Ukrainian leaders announced Russia’s withdrawal. “The Russian army these days is showing its best ability – to show its back,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Saturday evening.
Ukrainian armed forces have liberated roughly 3,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) of territory since launching a counteroffensive against Russia earlier this month, he said.
Ukrainian officials stopped short of confirming they had recaptured Izium, but Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyi’s chief of staff, posted a photo of soldiers on its outskirts and tweeted a grape emoji. The name of the city means “raisin”.
“The Russian Army claims the title of the fastest army in the world… keep going!” Yermak wrote on Twitter later.
The announcement of Russia’s withdrawal came hours after Ukrainian troops captured the town of Kupiansk further north, the only rail hub supplying the entire Russian front line across northeastern Ukraine. Early on Saturday, Ukrainian officials released photos of their soldiers raising the country’s blue-and-yellow flag outside the town hall in Kupiansk.
A few days ago, Kyiv forces broke through the front line and have since retaken dozens of towns and villages in a rapid mechanized assault that has been advancing tens of kilometres (miles) a day.
“To achieve the stated goals of the Special Military Operation for the Liberation of Donbas, it was decided to regroup Russian troops stationed in the Balakliia and Izium districts to increase efforts in the Donetsk direction,” TASS quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying. as they say.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar warned people not to prematurely report that cities were conquered just because Ukrainian troops entered, as in Balakliia.
“A few days ago it was reported that troops entered the city. Today we finally gained control of the city, carried out all the necessary activities and raised the flag,” she said.
In Hrakov, one of the dozens of villages recaptured in the Ukrainian advance, burnt-out vehicles bearing the “Z” symbol of the Russian invasion were noticed. Crates of ammunition were strewn along with the rubbish in the positions which the Russians had abandoned in evident haste.
“Hello everyone, we are from Russia,” was spray-painted on the wall. Three bodies lay in white sacks in the yard.
Regional police chief Volodymyr Tymoshenko said Ukrainian police had moved in the previous day and checked the identities of residents who had been living under Russian occupation since the second day of the invasion.
“The first function is to provide the help they need. The second task is to document the crimes committed by the Russian invaders in the territories they have temporarily occupied,” he said.
Russia is retreating
A witness from Valuyki, a town in Russia’s Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, told Reuters she saw families from Kupiansk eating and sleeping in their cars along the roads.
“I was in the market today and I saw a lot of people from Kupiansk. They say that half of the city has been occupied by the Ukrainian army and Russia is retreating… fighting is coming,” the witness said.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said officials were providing food and medical aid to people wanting to move into Russia. Senator Andrey Turchak of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party reported more than 400 vehicles are at service on the border
Russian rocket fire hit the city of Kharkiv on Saturday evening, killing at one person and damaging several houses, part of an increase in shelling since Kyiv’s counteroffensive, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia’s sudden abandonment of the front line south of the city of Kharkiv brought an abrupt end to a period in which the war was fought as a relentless battle on a static front, favouring Moscow’s advantage in raw firepower.