- Zelensky says troops have recaptured towns and villages
- Blinken visits Kiev with new US aid package
KYIV, Sept 9 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces were moving through an expanding swath of formerly Russian-held territory in the east on Friday after bursting through the front line in a surprise breakthrough that could mark a major turning point in the war.
After a day of silence, Moscow effectively acknowledged that part of its frontline southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, had collapsed.
“The fact that our security has been breached is already a significant victory for the Ukrainian armed forces,” Vitaly Ganchev, head of Moscow’s administration for the occupied territories in Kharkiv province, told Russian state television.
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Ganchev later said his administration was trying to evacuate civilians from cities including Isium, a major Russian stronghold.
The Russian Defense Ministry released a video of military vehicles speeding down the highway, saying they were showing reinforcements rushing to secure the area. The Kremlin declined to comment on the Ukrainian development.
Ukrainian authorities released videos of the march. It shows soldiers raising flags and posing in front of street signs in villages and towns across a region previously controlled by Russia.
A viral image showed troops raising a Ukrainian flag at a highway welcome sign to Kubiansk, 50 km inside Russia’s front line. The city is an important strategic target as it is the junction of several major railway lines supplying Russian troops to the front.
Ukraine kept independent journalists out of the area and Reuters could not confirm the images, but President Volodymyr Zelensky said troops had “liberated dozens of settlements” and reclaimed more than 1,000 square km (385 square miles) in eastern Kharkiv and southern Kherson regions.
Western military analysts say the advance could cut off supply lines that Moscow relies on to sustain its forces in eastern Ukraine and encircle thousands of Russian troops.
Such rapid developments are largely unheard of since Russia abandoned its offensive on Kyiv in March. made the war essentially a ceaseless battle on entrenched fronts.
“We’re seeing success now in Kherson, we’re seeing some success in Kharkov, and that’s very encouraging,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a news conference with his Czech counterpart in Prague.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who pledged additional military aid to Ukraine on Thursday, said during a visit to Kyiv on Friday: “Basically, they (Ukrainians) are fighting for their own homeland. They are fighting for their future. There are no Russian forces in Ukraine. I’m sure that’s the most important factor.” . . and we see some manifestations of it.”
Ukrainian civil servants said early Friday that retreating Russian forces were trying to evacuate wounded personnel and damaged military equipment near Kharkiv.
“Thanks to effective and coordinated operations, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with the support of the local population, advanced almost 50 km in three days.”
Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions driven from their homes and entire cities destroyed by Russian forces since Moscow launched a so-called “special military operation” in February to “disarm” Ukraine. Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians.
In the latest strike on civilians, Ukrainian officials said Russia opened fire across the border and struck a hospital in the northeastern Sumy region on Friday morning, destroying the building and injuring people. Reuters could not independently confirm this report.
A Russian rocket attack on the center of Kharkiv, which has been bombarded by Russia, injured 10 people, including three children, governor Oleh Sinehupov said. Mayor Ihor Terekov wrote in a telegram that the rockets hit a children’s art center and school and private homes.
The surprise Ukrainian breakthrough in the east came a week after Kyiv announced a long-awaited counter-offensive hundreds of kilometers across the front line in Kherson province in the south.
Ukrainian officials say Russia has moved thousands of troops south in response to the Kherson advance, exposing the rest of the front line and creating an opportunity for a blitzkrieg.
“We found a weak spot where the enemy was not prepared,” presidential adviser Oleksii Arestovich said in a video posted on YouTube.
So far, little information has emerged about the campaign in the south, with Ukraine barring journalists and releasing few details.
Ukraine is using new Western-supplied artillery and rockets to attack Russian rear positions, with the aim of trapping thousands of Russian troops on the west bank of the vast Dnipro River and cutting them off from supplies.
Arestovich admitted that progress in the south was still not as rapid as the sudden advance in the east.
Russia’s state news agency RIA reported, citing Russian-appointed Kherson officials, that some Ukrainian troops were captured and some of the Polish tanks they were using were destroyed during the counterattack. Reuters could not verify those reports.
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Reporting by Reuters Correspondents Writing by Peter Graf Editing by Philippa Fletcher
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