Russian army flees key Ukraine town in latest setback
Ukrainian forces on Saturday recaptured a strategic town in the country’s east after forcing Russian troops there to pull out, the second major victory in weeks and one that challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim to have annexed the area the day before.
Kyiv’s troops moved into the town after capturing five settlements near Lyman, blockading Russian units stationed there, military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy said on television.
The Russian defence ministry said later its forces had “pulled out, amid a threat of encirclement, to more favourable positions” in a regular battlefield report posted on Telegram.
A video posted on Twitter by Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, showed soldiers raising a Ukrainian yellow and blue flag on the outskirts of Lyman.
Pro-Kremlin military bloggers criticised the Russian armed forces’ command for failing to learn from its mistakes in Kharkiv. “The loss of Lyman is first and foremost a blow to the reputation of the Russian Federation because from yesterday it is effectively part of Russia’s territory,” said the Rybar Telegram channel.
Recapturing Lyman, which Russian troops occupied in May, restores Kyiv’s control over a key road and rail junction that Kremlin forces have used for logistical support in the eastern Donetsk region.
It could pave the way for Ukraine’s military to push deeper toward cities such as Sievierdonetsk and Lysychansk in the neighboring Luhansk region, which fell during a Russian offensive in the summer. And it all comes against the backdrop of Russian “annexation” of the region after referendums widely called illegal.
The town of Kreminna to Lyman’s east may be the next target, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Facebook.
“It is important to capture the area that opens up the way to liberate Donbas settlements - Svatove, Kreminna, Sievierodonetsk and others,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces, said on TV.
Ukraine’s advance comes after its lightning counteroffensive swept Russian forces out of most of the northeastern Kharkiv region in September. That stunning reversal was thought to be behind Putin’s mobilisation of 300,000 additional troops to try to regain the initiative on the ground -- a move that’s seen many draft-age men flee the country.
Ukraine is striving to press its advantage and reclaim as much territory as possible before Russia reinforces its defences with conscripts, and the arrival of winter makes rapid progress more difficult.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally, expressed dismay at the fall of Lyman on the heels of the capture last month of a string of towns including the railroad junction of Izyum, a staging post for Russia’s campaign in the eastern Donbas.
“Yesterday a parade in Izyum, today a flag in Lyman, what will be tomorrow?” Kadyrov said on Telegram. “In my personal view we need more radical measures, including up to martial law in border regions and the use of a low-yield nuclear weapon.”
Putin signed documents at a Kremlin ceremony on Friday to formalise Russia’s annexation of the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and two other occupied regions in southern Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
The United Nations and many countries declared the annexation illegal and the US imposed new sanctions in response.
Russia’s leader said the territories - representing about 15% of Ukraine, including some of its most productive agricultural and industrial areas - would be part of Russia “forever.” Putin threatened to use “all available” military means to defend Europe’s biggest land grab since World War II in his latest implicit nuclear threat.
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