Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukrainian forces entered the main Russian military stronghold of Izyum on Saturday, continuing their rapid advance through the northern region, ushering in an exciting new phase in the war that has lasted more than six months.
“Iseum has been liberated today,” Mayor Valery Marchenko said in an interview. While he is not in the city yet, he said he has been in contact with the police and that emergency services are working to clear them of potential dangers before residents can return.
The Russian Defense Ministry – which said the day before it was moving to reinforce its defensive positions in the area – confirmed on Saturday that it had withdrawn its forces from Izyum, six months after its forces besieged and then captured the city. . In its statement, it presented the withdrawal as a pre-planned move aimed at bolstering its efforts in the east, where its army has faltered for weeks.
Control of towns and cities at times proved fragile over the course of the war, and it was not immediately clear how secure Ukraine’s control of Izyum was and what efforts Russia might make to try to regain it.
But the liberation of Izyum – a strategically important rail hub captured by Russian forces in March after a bloody weeks-long battle – marked a turning point in the war, dwarfed only by Russia’s humiliating defeat around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in the spring.
The first signs that Russian forces would be retreating rather than fighting appeared late on Friday.
“Yesterday evening, the Russians put up a white flag near the railway station,” Yevin, the Ukrainian officer who took part in the liberation of Izyum, said in a telephone interview. “There was street fighting all night long.” He asked not to be identified except by his first name out of fear for his safety.
Much is shrouded in mystery around the Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region, where Isium is located, with no official confirmation and military analysts warning that it is a fast-moving situation that could change by the hour.
But the lightning attack in the northeast reshaped what had become a grinding war of attrition. Within days, the Russian front lines collapsed, the Russian troops fled and returned village after village again under the yellow and blue flag of Ukraine – like Kobyansk town Just north of Izium, which lies on the main supply routes to the eastern front line.
The Ukrainian Security Service later posted a photo on cable Elements of special forces appear in Kobyansk.
“We are moving further!” read the post, According to Ukrinform news agency.
While Ukrainian officials celebrated the turn of events, albeit with caution, some prominent pro-Kremlin military bloggers expressed their anger and frustration at the rapid developments.
A Russian military blogger, who goes by the name Rusich, has 278,000 followers on Telegram and claimed to be in the city on Friday, writing that Izium’s surrender was a “little setback” and urging his followers not to “despair”.
With the Russians out of the towns and cities they had struck in order to capture, I was just beginning to focus on the cost of their months-long occupation. Ukrainian officials said they have sent investigators to the newly liberated towns to begin collecting evidence of Russian war crimes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his overnight speech that the army had recaptured more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region.
“Measures to check and secure the area are continuing,” he said. “We are gradually taking over control of new settlements.”
The eastern offensive, which began earlier this week, has cleared Russian forces of more than 2,500 square kilometers of land in the Kharkiv region as of Friday, according to an estimate from Institute for the Study of WarIt is a Washington think tank.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about the attack, but it is clearly planned and executed well by Ukrainian forces,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “It appears to be a very effective combined arms operation with tanks, motorized infantry, special operations forces, air defenses, artillery, and other systems.”
Ukrainian and Western officials warned that offensive operations were in their early days, that the situation was volatile and that any gains were far from safe. Some military analysts have warned that the rapid advance of the Ukrainians could leave them exhausted and vulnerable to counterattack.
In addition to the counterattack in the northeast, Ukraine batch in the south To restore land in the Kherson region.
Mr Marchenko, the mayor of Izeum, said about 12,000 residents remained in the city and were in dire need of humanitarian supplies.
He said he hopes residents who have fled will be able to return in three or four days, but that devastation awaits them.
“There is not a single apartment building that has not been damaged,” the mayor said.
“Heating is the biggest problem,” he added. “I doubt whether we will be able to restore the heating system before winter.”
Ivan Nikiburnko Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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