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Russia retreating from Kharkiv as Ukraine counterattacks

Russia is retreating from positions around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

As Ukraine accelerates its offensive against invading troops in the south and east, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Saturday that it was pulling back troops in the east. The BBC reports that in many areas the front lines have collapsed.

About 50,000 Russian forces have been killed with over 100,000 injured, causing Vladimir Putin to initiate a plan to bring more men into the armed forces.

The news came after days of apparent advances by Ukraine south of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said troops would be regrouped from the Balakliya and Izyum areas to the eastern Donetsk region. Izyum was a major base for Russian forces in the Kharkiv region, and earlier this week social media videos showed residents of Balakliya joyfully cheering as Ukrainian troops moved in.

Konashenkov said the Russian move was being made “in order to achieve the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate Donbas,’” one of the eastern Ukraine regions that Russia has declared sovereign.

Earlier Saturday, Ukrainian officials claimed major gains in the Kharkiv region, saying their troops had cut off vital supplies to Izyum.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko also suggested troops had retaken Kupiansk, a town along the main supply route to Izyum, long a focus on the Russian front line and the site of heavy artillery and other fighting. Nikolenko posted a photo on Twitter showing soldiers in front of what he said was a government building in Kupiansk, 73 kilometers (45 miles) north of Izyum.

The Ukrainian Security Service posted a message hours later saying troops were in Kupiansk, further suggesting it had been seized. The military did not immediately confirm entering the town, a railway hub that Russia seized in February.

Videos on social media appeared to show Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Izyum at a roadside checkpoint. A large statue with the city’s name could be seen in the images. Ukrainian forces did not acknowledge holding the city.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that it believed Ukrainian troops had advanced as much as 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kharkiv, and described Russian forces around Izyum as “increasingly isolated.”

“Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns,” the British military said, adding that the loss of Kupiansk would greatly affect Russian supply lines.

Vladislav Sokolov, head of the Russian-appointed local administration, said on social media that authorities in Izyum had started evacuating residents to Russia.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine comes amid an ongoing offensive around Kherson in the south.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the television channel Ukraina that the Russians had no food or fuel for their troops in the area as Kyiv had cut off their supply lines.

The Ukrainian military was more circumspect, claiming to have taken “more than 1,000 square kilometers” (386 square miles) from pro-Kremlin forces this week. It said that “in some areas, units of the Defense Forces have penetrated the enemy’s defenses to a depth of 50 kilometers,” matching the British assessment, but did not disclose geographical details.

Officials in Kyiv have for weeks been tight-lipped about plans for a counteroffensive, urging residents to refrain from sharing information on social media.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that troops had reclaimed more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the start of the counter-offensive.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian emergency services reported that a 62-year-old woman was killed in a Russian missile strike in the Kharkiv region when her home was flattened overnight.

The Ukrainian governor of Kharkiv, Oleh Syniehubov, accused Moscow of pummeling retaken settlements. He said via Telegram that five civilians were hospitalized in the Izyum district, while nine others suffered injuries elsewhere in the region.

In the embattled Donbas, the Ukrainian governor said civilians were killed and wounded overnight by Russian shelling near the city of Bakhmut, a key target of the stalled Russian offensive. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram that two people died and two were injured in Bakhmut and the neighboring village of Yahidne.

Also Saturday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv and said Europe would not tire of helping Ukraine, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to raise the pressure by withholding energy supplies.

Baerbock said Germany will assist Ukraine in finding and removing mines and other unexploded ordnance left by Russian troops in areas where they have been pushed back.

Despite Ukraine’s gains, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of NATO warned Friday that the war would likely drag on for months. Blinken said the conflict was entering a critical period and urged Ukraine’s Western backers to keep up their support through what could be a difficult winter.

–The Associated Press

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