KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces have pressed Russian forces to withdraw Tuesday, pressing a counteroffensive that has made major gains and dealt a crushing blow to Moscow’s military prestige.
As the advance continued, Ukraine’s border guard services said troops took control of Vovchansk – a town just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Russia captured on the first day of the war. Russia admits to withdrawing troops from the northeastern parts of Kharkiv in recent days.
It is not yet clear that the Ukrainian blitz, What unfolded after months of small movements, could mark a turning point in the nearly seven-month war.
But the country’s authorities were upbeat, releasing footage of its troops burning Russian flags and inspecting abandoned, charred tanks. In one video, border guards tear down a poster reading “We are one with Russia”.
Momentum has shifted back and forth, and Ukraine’s American allies were careful not to declare victory prematurely. Russian President Vladimir Putin still has the military and the resources.
Then came Russia’s biggest defeat Its fake attempt to capture Kyiv early in the war, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, led to “massive offensives” by the army in all areas. But there are no reports of a sudden increase in Russian attacks.
Late on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said his forces had so far recaptured 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) – an area twice the size of Luxembourg – in a matter of weeks.
“Our forces continue to move,” he said.
Reports of chaos spread as Russian troops retreated – with claims that they were mass surrendering. The claims could not be immediately verified.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv was trying to lure more Russian troops, launching shells loaded with fliers ahead of their advance.
“The Russians use you as cannon fodder. Your life means nothing to them. You don’t need this war. Surrender to the armed forces of Ukraine,” the flyers read.
While dozens of towns and villages were liberated, officials moved into several areas to investigate alleged atrocities by Russian forces against civilians.
The Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office said four bodies with signs of torture were found in the village of Zaliznych. It’s unclear how many other locations investigators entered.
Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army’s general staff, accused the Russian military of committing hundreds of war crimes in the once-held territory. He said the liberated towns and villages were at high risk of minefields and 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of ammunition and high explosives.
“The defense forces are taking measures to return peaceful life to the liberated communities as soon as possible,” he said.
In a sign of a blow by Moscow, British intelligence said a key force, the 1st Guards Tank Army, had been “severely degraded” during the invasion, and conventional Russian forces designed to counter NATO had been greatly weakened.
“It will take years for Russia to rebuild this capability,” analysts said.
The withdrawal did not prevent Russia from launching a heavy assault on Ukrainian positions. Early on Tuesday, shelling hit the town of Lozova in Kharkiv region, killing three people and wounding nine, regional governor Oleh Sinehubov said.
And Ukrainian officials said Russia opened fire around Europe’s largest nuclear weapons facility, where the fighting has raised fears of a nuclear disaster. The Nikopol area, across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, was shelled six times overnight but there were no immediate injuries, regional governor Valentin Reznichenko said.
Attacks also continue on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and which has been hammered by artillery for months..
Zelensky specifically criticized Russia for targeting energy infrastructure in attacks over the past few days.
“Hundreds and thousands of Ukrainians found themselves in the dark – without electricity. Homes, hospitals, schools, communal infrastructure … sites that have nothing to do with the infrastructure of our nation’s armed forces.
He said strikes can only point to one thing.
This is a sign of the desperation of those who waged this war. He has a similar reaction to the defeat of the Russian army in the Kharkiv region. They cannot do anything to our heroes on the battlefield.”
Among Kharkiv’s battle-scarred apartment buildings, a man who had returned to feed the birds said defiantly that the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive would likely trigger harsh Russian retaliation against civilian targets. But it will not succeed in intimidating ordinary Ukrainians, he said.
Putin “doesn’t know what to do and he will attack more here. Just on infrastructure,” said Serhi, who gave only his first name. “He will attack because we have no water, no electricity, to create more chaos and threaten us. But he won’t succeed because we’ll survive and Putin will soon squirm!”
The counteroffensive has marked Putin’s rare public criticism of the war. Meanwhile, some defenders in Russia rejected the idea that the breakthrough was down to Ukraine, instead blaming Western weapons and fighters for the damage.
“Nato, not Ukraine to attack Izium,” read a headline in the state-backed Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, which said Russia had withdrawn troops from the area.
Elsewhere, residents of a Russian village across the border from Ukraine were evacuated after one person was killed in shelling by Ukrainian forces, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
The report quoted the head of the local administration in Logachevka, who said that Ukrainian forces opened fire on the border post.
Arirova reported from Kyiv.
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