Ukrainian officials shared photos on Saturday showing troops hoisting the national flag over the main rail town that has supplied Russian forces in northeastern Ukraine, as a collapse of the Russian front line threatened to turn into a rout.
A Reuters reporter inside a large area recaptured by advancing Ukrainian forces in recent days saw Ukrainian police patrolling towns and crates of ammunition lying in a heap on positions abandoned by Russian soldiers in leak.
With the Ukrainians now having reached the town of Kupyansk, where rail lines connecting Russia with eastern Ukraine converge, the advance had penetrated to the main logistics route from Moscow, potentially trapping thousands of Russian troops.
A tank of the Ukrainian army advances towards the fronts in the northeastern regions of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on September 08, 2022.
Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Natalia Popova, adviser to the head of the Kharkiv regional council, shared photos on Facebook of soldiers waving a Ukrainian flag in front of Kupiansk’s city hall. A Russian flag was placed at their feet. “Kupiansk is Ukraine. Glory to the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” she wrote.
In Hrakove, one of dozens of recaptured villages, Reuters reporters saw burned vehicles bearing the “Z” symbol of the Russian invasion, and piles of rubbish and ammunition in positions the Russians had abandoned in haste.
“Hello everyone, we are from Russia,” was spray painted on one wall.
Three bodies lay in white body bags in a yard.
Regional police chief Volodymyr Tymoshenko said Ukrainian police had intervened the day before and checked the identity of local residents who had been living under Russian occupation since the second day of the invasion.
“The first function is to provide the help they need. The next task is to document the crimes committed by the Russian invaders in the territories they temporarily occupied.”
The capture of at least part of Kupiansk, if confirmed, potentially leaves thousands of Russian troops trapped on the front line and cut off from supplies. Reuters could not independently verify the situation in the city.
Ukraine has taken over a large swath of territory in the east in recent days in its fastest advance since defeating the Russian assault on the capital Kyiv in March.
In a video address overnight, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at least 30 settlements had been liberated in the Kharkiv region.
“Our military, intelligence units and security services are conducting active engagements in several operational areas. They are doing so successfully,” he said in a video address.
Moscow acknowledged that its front line had warped in Kharkiv, but said it was rushing additional troops to reinforce the area.
The head of the Russian administration installed in the occupied areas of the province, Vitaliy Ganchev, described the advance as a Ukrainian victory and called on civilians to flee.
Ukrainian officials released a series of images of troops entering towns previously controlled by Russia and hugging local residents who had been under Russian military occupation for six months.
The Ukrainian advance threatens to encircle thousands of Russian troops at Izium, the main Russian stronghold and logistics base in the northeastern sector of the front.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, in a video posted on YouTube, said the Russians in Izium were almost isolated.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify reports describing the situation at Izium. Ganchev, the Russian-installed regional official, included Izium among the towns where he said civilians should evacuate.
Ukraine’s advance is by far the fastest in months, after a long period in which the war turned into relentless fighting along entrenched front lines.
Ukraine’s attack in the east came as a surprise just a week after it announced the start of a long-awaited counterattack to reclaim Russian-occupied territory hundreds of miles away. opposite end of the front at Kherson in the south.
Black smoke rises from the front line in Mykolaiv oblast on August 30, 2022. Ukraine has launched a major counter-offensive to retake the city of Kherson and the southern region of the same name. Kherson was the first Ukrainian city to fall to the Russians after the invasion began in February.
Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images
Less information has been made public about this operation, but Kyiv also had some success there, cutting off supply routes to thousands of Russian soldiers isolated on the west bank of the Dnipro.
“We’re seeing success in Kherson now, we’re seeing some success in Kharkiv and so that’s very, very encouraging,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a news conference in Prague on Thursday.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions driven from their homes and Russian forces have destroyed entire cities since launching what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to “disarm” Ukraine. Russia denies intentionally targeting civilians.