Joy in northeastern Ukraine over the return of residents after the Russian withdrawal

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Ukrainian forces pushed into territory seized from fleeing Russian soldiers on Monday, as joyful residents returned to former frontline towns and Moscow grappled with the fallout from the collapse of its occupying force in northeastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian General Staff said early Monday that its soldiers had recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in the past day alone, after Russia acknowledged it was abandoning Izium, its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine.

“People are crying, people are happy, of course. How can they not be happy,” said retired English teacher Zoya, 76, north of Kharkiv in the town of Zolochiv, 18 kilometers from the city. Russian border, crying as she described the months she had spent sheltering in a basement.

Nastya, 28, had fled the village in April but returned last week after news of the Ukrainian advances: “I think everyone is in a very good mood! Now it’s all over. At least we hope it’s all over.” finished,” she said as she stood in line to buy groceries with two small children.

Farther north, Ukrainian troops had entered Udi, a village in what had been no man’s land closer to the border. Returning soldiers said it remained unsafe, littered with land mines, grenades and weapons left behind by fleeing Russian soldiers, and with abandoned farm animals roaming around.

In what remains of Russian-controlled territory in the Kharkiv region, Vitaly Ganchev, the head of the Russian-installed occupation administration of Moscow, acknowledged that the Ukrainian military had crossed the border.

Ganchev, who has ordered the complete evacuation of civilians from Russian-held parts of the province, told Russia’s Rossiya-24 state television that some 5,000 civilians had fled to Russia, but the border was now closed.

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“The situation is increasingly difficult,” he said.

EMERGENCY DEFENSIVE MEASURES

As thousands of Russian troops fled their positions, leaving behind huge stockpiles of ammunition and equipment, Russia fired missiles at power plants on Sunday, causing blackouts in the Kharkiv and adjacent Poltava and Sumy regions.

Ukraine denounced what it described as reprisals against civilian targets for their military advances. On Monday morning, Reuters journalists in Kharkiv said the electricity was back on, but the water was still not working.

The regional governor said that power had been restored to 80%. Moscow, which denies deliberately attacking civilian targets, had no comment.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia had likely ordered its forces to withdraw from the entire Kharkiv region west of the Oskil river, abandoning the main supply route that had sustained Russian operations in the east.

kyiv, which reached the Oskil on Saturday when it seized the city of Kupiansk, a rail hub, suggested Russia was already falling back further: The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian troops had abandoned Svatove in Luhansk province, some 20 kilometers east of Oskil. Reuters could not confirm it.

The British ministry said Moscow forces were also having difficulty bringing reserves to the front line in the south, where Ukraine has launched a breakthrough into Kherson province with the aim of isolating thousands of Russian soldiers on the west bank. of the Dnieper river.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s southern command said Ukrainian forces had recaptured 500 square kilometers of territory in the south, information that could not immediately be independently confirmed.

“It is very likely that the bulk of the (Russian) forces in Ukraine will be forced to prioritize emergency defensive actions,” a British update said. “Ukrainian quick successes have significant implications for Russia’s overall operational design.”

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DEPLOYMENT

Ukraine’s fastest advance since it drove Russian forces from the capital in March has turned the six-month war on its head, undoing in a matter of days gains Moscow had made in months of costly fighting in the east.

Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said his soldiers had retaken more than 3,000 square kilometers this month, advancing up to 50 kilometers from the Russian border.

Further Russian withdrawals, especially east of the Oskil, could soon put Ukrainian forces in a position to attack territory that Russia and its local allies had held since 2014.

Denis Pushilin, head of the pro-Russian separatist administration in Donetsk province, acknowledged the pressure from multiple directions.

“At a minimum, we have stopped the enemy in Lyman,” he said in a Telegram post overnight, referring to a frontline town east of Izium. “We’ll have to see how it plays out. But our guys have had clear successes.”

He also described “successes” in fighting in Bakhmut, where Russia had been concentrating its offensive for some time, and in Vuhledar, further south.

So far, Moscow has remained largely mute since its front line collapsed in the northeast last week, and President Vladimir Putin and his top officials have refrained from commenting on the “special military operation” they have always They have said that “it is going according to plan”.

After days without making any reference to the withdrawal, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged on Saturday that it had abandoned Izium and neighboring Balakliia in what it called a pre-planned “regrouping” to fight in Donetsk.

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Russian broadcasters, required by law to report only from official accounts, have alluded to the setbacks but have taken pains to explain them, with commentators mainly demanding a redoubled war effort.

“We must win the war in Ukraine! We must liquidate the Nazi regime,” said a commentator on an NTV television program.

“And how many years is that supposed to take?” replied another. “So my 10-year-olds have a fighting chance?”

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