CONCLUSION 10-Russia abandons major northeast cities as Ukrainian forces advance


Moscow abandoned its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, in a sudden collapse of one of the main front lines of the war after a rapid advance by Ukrainian forces. Izium’s swift fall in Kharkiv province was Moscow’s worst defeat since its troops were pushed back from the capital Kyiv in March. Ukraine hailed it as a turning point in the 6-month war, with thousands of Russian troops leaving behind stockpiles of ammunition and equipment as they fled.

Russian forces used Izium as a logistical base for one of their main campaigns – a months-long assault from the north on the adjacent Donbass region comprising Donetsk and Lugansk. The official TASS news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the surrounding area and step up operations elsewhere in Donetsk.

The head of Russia’s administration in Kharkiv told residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to “save lives”, TASS reported. Witnesses described traffic jams with people leaving Russian-held territory. If the announced gains are maintained, it would be a blow for Russia, which according to Western intelligence services has suffered huge losses. It would also be a big boost for Ukraine, which is keen to show Western weapon-supplying nations that it deserves their continued support.

Kyiv is under pressure to demonstrate progress before winter arrives, as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to halt all energy deliveries to Europe if Brussels goes ahead with a cap proposal the price of Russian oil exports. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Kyiv that Ukrainian forces had demonstrated that they were capable of defeating the Russian army with the weapons given to them.

“And so I repeat: the more weapons we receive, the sooner we will win and the sooner this war will end,” he said. In his Saturday night video address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s armed forces had reclaimed about 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of territory since launching his counteroffensive earlier this month.

“The Russian army claims the title of the fastest army in the world…keep running!” Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed that they have taken over Izium, but Yermak earlier posted a photo of troops on its outskirts and tweeted an emoji of grapes. The name of the city means “grape”.

The announcement of the Russian withdrawal came hours after Ukrainian troops captured the northern town of Kupyansk, the only rail hub supplying the entire Russian frontline in northeastern Ukraine. On Saturday morning, Ukrainian officials released photos of their troops raising the country’s blue and yellow flag in front of the city hall in Kupyansk. This left thousands of Russian troops abruptly cut off from supplies along a front that saw some of the most intense battles of the war.

Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, called the Russian withdrawal a “major defeat” in remarks on Telegram. MECHANIZED ASSAULT

Ukraine has been talking for weeks about a major counter-offensive in the south, which is also underway although details are scarce. Russia still occupies a large territory in the Donbass and in the south near the Crimean peninsula which it seized in 2014.

A few days ago, Kyiv forces crossed the frontline in the northeast and have since retaken dozens of towns and villages in a rapid mechanized assault, advancing tens of kilometers (miles) through day. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar issued a warning, urging people not to report prematurely that cities have been “taken” simply because Ukrainian troops have been sighted. Troops entered Balaklia a few days ago, she said, but it was not until Saturday that Ukraine took control of the town.

In Hrakove, one of dozens of villages recaptured during the Ukrainian advance, Reuters saw burnt-out vehicles bearing the “Z” symbol for the Russian invasion. Boxes of ammunition were strewn with garbage on positions the Russians had abandoned with obvious haste. “Hello everyone, we are from Russia,” was spray painted on one wall. Three bodies lay in white body bags in a yard.

Regional police chief Volodymyr Tymoshenko said Ukrainian police had moved the day before and checked the identity of local 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 next task is to document the crimes committed by the Russian invaders in the territories they temporarily occupied,” he said.

‘FIGHTING IS CLOSING’ A witness in 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 at the market today and saw a lot of people from Kupiansk. They say half the town has been taken by the Ukrainian army and Russia is withdrawing…the fighting is getting closer” , said the witness. Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said authorities were providing food and medical aid to people queuing at a crossing point to Russia. Senator Andrey Turchak of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party reported more than 400 vehicles at the border.

Russian rocket fire hit the city of Kharkiv on Saturday night, killing at least one person and damaging several homes, in an upsurge in shelling since kyiv’s counteroffensive, Ukrainian officials said. Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.

“The advance is huge. There are sporadic battles, but most of the occupiers are fleeing,” Lugansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Saturday.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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