Ukrainian forces continued to push north into the Kharkiv region and advance south and east, the Ukrainian army chief said on Sunday, a day after their rapid advances caused Russia to abandon its main stronghold in the area.
President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the Ukrainian advance in the northeastern province of Kharkov as a potential breakthrough in a six-month-old war, saying there could be more rapid gains in territory this winter if kyiv gets more powerful weapons.
“In the direction of Kharkiv, we are starting to move not only to the south and east, but also to the north. There are 50 kilometers left to reach the state border (with Russia),” the commander-in-chief of Ukraine, General Valery Zaluzhnyi.
According to him, the country’s armed forces have regained control of more than 3,000 square kilometers since the beginning of this month.
In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that Russian forces were hitting Ukrainian army positions in the Kharkov region with precision strikes by air troops, missiles and artillery.
The withdrawal from the city of Izium marked the worst defeat for Russian forces since they were pushed out of the capital, kyiv, in March, as thousands of Russian soldiers abandoned ammunition and equipment in their flight.
The achievements are politically significant for Zelensky, who is trying to keep Europe united behind Ukraine – by supplying weapons and money – at a time when a winter energy crisis looms following cuts in Russian gas supplies to customers. Europeans.
“I think this winter is a turning point, and it may lead to rapid de-occupation of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in comments to a political forum posted on his website late on Saturday. “We see how they (the occupants) are fleeing in some directions. If we were a little stronger with weapons, we would vacate faster.”
Ukrainian officials have refrained from confirming Izium’s recapture, but Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, posted a photo of troops outside Izium and tweeted a grape emoji. The name of the city means “pass”.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces continued to gain ground in the Kharkov region over the past 24 hours. However, fighting continued around Izium and Kupiansk, the only railway hub supplying the Russian front line in northeastern Ukraine, which was retaken by forces from kyiv.
As the war entered its 200th day, Ukraine reported more Russian missile and air strikes overnight and regional officials reported heavy Russian shelling in the east and south.
The governor of the eastern province of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Telegram that 10 civilians were killed overnight. Further south, nine were injured in the town of Mykolaiv, its mayor said.
Reuters has been unable to independently confirm the battlefield accounts.
ZAPORIJIA INTERRUPTS ACTIVITY
As the fighting raged, conditions at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant remained a cause for global concern. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of bombing the area around the Zaporizhia plant and thus risking a catastrophic release of radiation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said a standby power line had been restored to the Russian-controlled plant, giving it the external electricity it needs to cool its reactors and fend off the risk of a meltdown.
The state agency Energoatom, for its part, said it stopped operations at the plant as a safety measure, as the line restored to the grid allowed the plant to be powered by Ukraine’s power system.
On Wednesday, kyiv had urged residents of Russian-occupied areas around the plant to evacuate for their own safety.
The continent’s energy crisis threatens to erode European unity around Ukraine, and kyiv needs to show that it can not only resist Moscow’s assault, but also tip the scales in its favour.
Zelensky told a conference attended by the German foreign minister on Saturday that Moscow was doing “everything” to break Ukrainian and European resolve.
“There are 90 days ahead that will determine more than 30 years of Ukraine’s independence. Ninety days that, more than all other years, will determine the existence of the EU. Winter will determine our future,” he said.
Russian forces used Izium as a logistics base for one of their main campaigns: a months-long assault from the north into the adjacent Donbass region, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Russian Defense Ministry has ordered troops to leave the vicinity and strengthen operations elsewhere in Donetsk, the state news agency TASS reported on Saturday.
The head of the Russian administration in Kharkiv called on residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to “save lives”, TASS reported. Witnesses described traffic jams with people leaving Russian-controlled territory.