Ukraine must secure the vast territory it has recovered from a possible Russian counterattack, the country’s defense minister has warned, as he said Kyiv’s blitz offensive went much “better provided that”.
The attack routed Kremlin forces, led to the recapture of some 3,000 km2 of Ukrainian territory and prompted the Russian Defense Ministry to uncharacteristically admit that its troops had to retreat.
“A counter-offensive liberates a territory and after that you have to control it and be ready to defend it,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Financial Times, while warning: “Of course we have to worry, this war worried us. for years.”
On Sunday evening, Russia went on a rampage against Ulkraine with artillery and missile fire launched from the Black Sea.
In Kharkiv, the night sky lit up following a strike at the country’s second-largest thermal power plant, causing a blackout. A blackout also hit the Donetsk region, while Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy experienced partial ones.
Russian forces are “terrorists and remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light and heat,” President Volodmyr Zelensky tweeted.
Russia’s most outspoken pro-war commentators celebrated civilian areas left without electricity: “Hey neighbors, what’s up with the light? quipped Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia Today. However, on Sunday evening, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior Ukrainian official, said power had been restored to some areas.
Zelensky later wrote on Telegram: “Do you still think we [Russians and Ukrainians] are ‘one people’? Do you still think you can scare us, break us? . . . We will be with gas, light, water and food… and WITHOUT you!
The Ukrainian blitzkrieg – which Reznikov described as a “snowball rolling down a hill” – is the biggest setback for Russia since the full-scale invasion ordered by its President Vladimir Putin on February 24.
Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s strongman, who has backed Moscow by sending in troops, criticized the withdrawal of the Russian army and said that if their strategy did not change, he would talk to the “leaders of the country”.
“Mistakes were made. I think they will draw conclusions. It may not be nice to tell the truth to someone’s face, but I like to tell the truth,” he said.
The latest Ukrainian offensive marks a success along the northernmost of the three active front lines in the conflict and Kyiv forces continued to gain the advantage on Sunday. General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander of the armed forces, said they were only 50 km from the Russian border. Photographs he posted on Telegram showed military positions that Russian troops had abandoned so quickly that meals were left on wooden tables.
“Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to liberate Russian-occupied territories,” Zaluzhnyi wrote. “Since the beginning of September, more than 3,000 km2 have been returned.”
Russian sympathizers have also fled occupied territories in the Luhansk region, southeast of Kharkiv, said Serhiy Hayday, the Ukrainian head of the region’s military administration.
“Massive disoccupation is on the horizon,” Hayday told Ukrainian television on Sunday. “Maybe it [victory] won’t be in a day or two, but it will happen soon. . . We can say that their morale is broken.
Reznikov said Ukrainian troops were tired after the six-day attack but morale was high because “it’s a sign that Russia can be defeated.”
He warned that Russian reinforcements could launch a counterattack on his country’s strained supply lines. Ukrainian forces could also be surrounded by new Russian troops if they advance too far.
Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, said the Ukrainian advance was a moment of hope. “That’s what we need,” she said during a visit to Kyiv.
The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged on Saturday that its forces had withdrawn from the strategic town of Izyum, saying it had decided to “regroup” and transfer them southeast to the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian troops had surrounded Kupyansk, north of Izyum, a road and rail hub that feeds Russian defenses in northeastern Ukraine. This left thousands of Russian troops cut off from supply across a fiercely contested stretch of battlefield.
Freeing Izyum “would be Ukraine’s most significant military achievement since winning the Battle of Kyiv in March,” analysts at the US Institute for the Study of War said. They expected Ukrainian forces to “capture the town of Izyum itself within the next 48 hours if they haven’t already.”
Military officials and analysts have warned that the success of the offensive does not mean Ukrainian troops are about to push back Russian forces on the border.
Reznikov said the almost simultaneous counteroffensive around Kherson was progressing more slowly because it was an agricultural region “with irrigation canals” which the Russians could use as defensive trenches.
Casualties there were reportedly heavy and the Ukrainian General Staff said 1,200 Chechen troops had been deployed to reinforce Russian positions.
Reznikov said the Chechens were being used to prevent frontline troops from deserting their positions.
“News from the Department of Defense about the withdrawal will spread quickly,” said Dara Massicot, a Russian military expert at the Rand Corporation, a US think tank. “Moscow should not underestimate how quickly bad news, panic and rumors can be unleashed at the front – especially given the depletion of forces resulting from months of fighting, a lack of reserves and rest.”