KHARKIV: Russia said it was pulling back troops from the eastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine as Kyiv announced massive territorial gains in its lightning counter-offensive.
A Moscow-backed separatist leader in the east meanwhile said Russian forces were fighting “difficult” battles against Kyiv’s troops in several parts of eastern Donetsk region.
A Ukrainian official also said Kyiv’s troops were closing in on the eastern city of Lysychansk, captured by Russian troops after fierce artillery battles in July.
Moscow’s announcement late on Saturday of the pullback alongside Kyiv’s claim to have entered the town of Kupiansk are the most significant shifts in battlefield dynamics after months of fighting in eastern Ukraine that has been dominated by Moscow.
“A decision was made to regroup Russian troops stationed in the Balakliya and Izyum regions to bolster efforts along the Donetsk front,” Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement.
News of the drawdown came just after Ukrainian special forces published images on social media showing camouflage-clad officers with automatic weapons “in Kupiansk”, a town of about 27,000 people.
Ukrainian troops had also liberated Vasylenkovo and Artemivka in Kharkiv region, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address on Saturday.
Separately speaking to the annual Yalta European Strategy forum, Zelensky said Russia “is doing everything to break the resistance of Ukraine, Europe and the world during the 90 days of this (coming) winter”, counting on an eventual weakening of Western support for Kyiv due to rising energy prices and heating problems.
“It’s their final argument,” he said.
There was no official confirmation that Kyiv’s troops had also routed Russian forces from Izyum — an important staging ground for Moscow’s war effort with a population of around 45,000 people before the invasion.
But images flooding social media appeared to show Ukrainian forces within the city and Russian observers of the conflict said there were initial reports Moscow’s army had already withdrawn.
“Ukrainian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, liberating more cities and villages. Their courage coupled with Western military support brings astonishing results,” said foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko.