Russia retreats as Ukraine counter-offensive makes further advances
Russian forces withdrew from key northeastern towns on Saturday in a sudden collapse of one of the war’s principal front lines after Ukrainian forces made a rapid advance.
Reports say Russia’s defence ministry ordered troops to leave the vicinity of Izium in Kharkiv province on Saturday and reinforce operations elsewhere in Donetsk.
Reports say the head of Russia’s administration in Kharkiv told residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to “save lives”.
Russian forces used Izium as the logistics base for one of their main campaigns – a months-long assault from the north on the adjacent Donbas region comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“The advance is enormous. There are sporadic battles, but mostly the occupiers are fleeing,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Saturday.
The swift fall of Izium is Moscow’s worst defeat since its troops were forced back from the capital Kyiv in March.
The announcement of Russia’s withdrawal came hours after Ukrainian troops captured the city of Kupiansk farther north, the sole railway hub supplying Russia’s entire front line across northeastern Ukraine.
That left thousands of Russian troops abruptly cut off from supplies along a front that has seen some of the most intense battles of the war.
Call for more weapons
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Kyiv that Ukrainian forces had demonstrated they were capable of defeating the Russian army with the weapons given to them.
“And so I reiterate: the more weapons we receive, the faster we will win, and the faster this war will end,” he said.
In his nightly video address on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s armed forces had recovered around 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) of territory since its counter-offensive was launched earlier this month.
Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, called the Russian pullback “a major defeat” in remarks on Telegram.
If the reported gains are held, it would be a serious blow for Russia, which Western intelligence services say has suffered huge casualties.
It would also be a big boost for Ukraine, which is keen to show Western nations supplying it with weapons it deserves their continued support.
There is pressure on Kyiv to demonstrate progress before winter sets in, amid threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt all energy shipments to Europe if Brussels goes ahead with a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil exports.
Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, sounded a cautionary note, urging people not to report prematurely that towns have been “taken” just because Ukrainian troops were sighted.
Troops entered Balakliia a few days ago, she said, but it was only on Saturday that Ukraine established control in the city.