Russian forces retreat from crucial areas in Ukraine’s northeast – Nexus News

Russia has deserted its primary bastion in northeastern Ukraine, in a sudden fall of one of the war’s principal front lines after Ukrainian forces made a rapid advance.

The swift fall of Izyum in Kharkiv province on Saturday was Moscow’s worst knock since its military men were forced back from the capital, Kyiv, in March.

This could mean a key moment in the six-month-old war, with thousands of Russian soldiers leaving ammunition stockpiles and equipment behind as they fled. Russian forces used Izyum as the logistics base for one of their main campaigns – a months-long attack from the north on the adjacent Donbas region comprising Donetsk and Luhansk.

The state-run TASS news agency cited Russia’s defense ministry as stating that it had directed troops to leave the area and reinforce operations elsewhere in neighboring Donetsk.

The head of Russia’s administration in Kharkiv informed residents to leave the province and run to Russia to “save lives”, TASS reported. Witnesses disclosed traffic jams of cars with people leaving Russian-held territory.

News of the retreat came just after Ukrainian special forces publicized images on social media revealing camouflage-clad officers with automatic weapons in Kupiansk, a town of about 27,000 people.

Ukrainian forces had also liberated Vasylenkovo and Artemivka in the Kharkiv region, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy disclosed in his evening address on Saturday.

“The Russian army these days is demonstrating its best ability – to show its back,” he said

Ukraine’s armed forces have liberated about 2,000sq km (770sq miles) of territory since a counter-offensive against Russia commenced earlier this month, he said.

‘Tide turning’

There was no official statement from Ukraine that its force had defeated Russian forces from Izyum, but Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, posted a photo of troops on its outskirts and tweeted an emoji of grapes. The city’s name means “raisin”.

“The Russian army is claiming the title of fastest army in the world … keep running!” Yermak wrote on Twitter later.

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Kyiv, stated that Izyum was “a key military strongpoint for the Russians for many months”.

“It took the Russians six weeks of fighting to get a hold of that city, and now it appears that the Ukrainians will have retaken it, in pretty much a 12-to-24-hour timeframe,” Elizondo said.

“It gives you an idea of how the tide is certainly turning. Ukrainians clearly have the momentum in this battle right now in the northeast, as they continue to push the Russian forces back.”

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

There were signs of trouble for Russia elsewhere along its remaining positions on the eastern front, with pro-Russian officials confirming difficulties in other areas.

In Donetsk, pro-Russian rebel leader Denis Pushilin noted that the situation in the town of Lyman was “very difficult” and that there was also fighting in “a number of other localities”, especially in the northern part of the region.

The alleged Ukrainian gains come as pressure mounts on Kyiv to demonstrate progress before winter sets in, despite threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop all energy shipments to Europe if Brussels goes ahead with a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil exports.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba disclosed in Kyiv that Ukrainian forces had revealed they were capable of defeating the Russian army with the weapons given to them.

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“And so I reiterate: the more weapons we receive, the faster we will win, and the faster this war will end,” he said.

Earlier on Saturday, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, who was visiting the Ukrainian capital, said Berlin would continue to back Ukraine in its fight against Russian troops.

“I have travelled to Kyiv today to show that they can continue to rely on us. That we will continue to stand by Ukraine for as long as necessary with deliveries of weapons, and with humanitarian and financial support,” she said.

Russia still occupies extensive territory in the Donbas and in the south near the Crimean Peninsula, which it hijacked in 2014. Ukraine has for weeks been talking up a big counteroffensive in the south, which is in progress though details are not clear.

Despite the alleged gains in the northeast, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, issued a warning note, advising people not to claim prematurely that towns have been “taken” just because Ukrainian troops were sighted.

Troops entered the town of Balakliia a few days ago, she stated, but it was only on Saturday that Ukraine established control in the city.

“A few days ago it was reported that troops had entered the town. Today, we have finally established control in the city, carried out all the necessary activities, and raised the flag,” she said.

In Hrakove, one of dozens of villages reclaimed in the Ukrainian advance, the Reuters news agency reported burned-out vehicles bearing the “Z” symbol of Russia’s invasion. Boxes of ammunition were dispersed along with waste at positions the Russians had deserted in evident haste.

“Hello everyone, we are from Russia,” was spray-painted on a wall. Three bodies lay in white body bags in a yard.

The regional chief of police, Volodymyr Tymoshenko, stated that Ukrainian police moved in the previous day and checked the identities of local occupants who had lived under Russian occupation since the invasion’s second day.

“The first function is to provide help that they need. The next job is to document the crimes committed by Russian invaders on the territories which they temporarily occupied,” he said.

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