The liberated towns of Ukraine breathe a sigh of relief. The future of war and negotiation after the counterattack

Ukrainian forces pushed further into territory captured from fleeing Russian forces on Monday, with jubilant residents returning to former frontline villages as Moscow rained shells on the Kharkiv region, sparking fires across the regional capital have.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that since the beginning of this month, Ukrainian forces have recaptured six thousand square kilometers of territory controlled by Russia.

Ukraine’s general staff said its forces had recaptured more than 20 towns and villages just the previous day.

In an evening update, it added that its forces further to the south had repelled Russian attempts to advance in two key areas of the Donetsk region, the city of Bakhmut and Mayorsk, near the coal-producing town of Horlivka.

“People cry, people are naturally happy. How can they not be happy?” said Zoya, 76, a retired English teacher in the now quiet town of Zolochev. Zoya cried as she described the months she spent in the basement.
The village is located north of Kharkiv, only 18 km from the Russian border.

Nastya, 28, fled the town last April but returned last week after news of the Ukrainian victories broke.

“I think everyone is in a good (mood) state,” she told Reuters. It’s all over now. At least we hope it’s all over.”

Vitaly Janchev, Russia’s appointed head of administration in the still Russian-controlled part of the Kharkiv region, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces had made progress toward the border.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said at a press conference on Monday that coincided with his visit to Mexico that the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian forces is still in its early days, but that Ukrainian forces have “made significant progress.”

“What they did was very systematically planned and they obviously benefited from great support from the United States and many other countries to make sure that Ukraine had the equipment it needed to continue this counterattack,” he added.

A senior US military official said that, according to US estimates, Russia had largely given up its gains near Kharkiv.

Ukraine announces the recovery of large areas.. and Washington confirms the existence of “chaos” in the Russian ranks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that his country’s military had recaptured 6,000 square kilometers of land from Russian forces since the start of the counteroffensive in early September.

“In the field near Kharkiv, we estimate that Russian forces largely gave up their gains to the Ukrainians and retreated to the north and east. Many of these soldiers crossed the border into Russia,” the military official, speaking to reporters added on condition of anonymity.

A scene depicting the destruction of a power station in Kharkiv

Russian silence

President Vladimir Putin and his top officials have been silent in the face of the worst defeat for Russian forces since their expulsion from the outskirts of the capital, Kiev, in the first weeks of the war. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov ignored a journalist’s question about whether Putin still had confidence in the military leaders.

“The special military operation continues and will continue until it achieves the goals that were set for it in the first place,” Peskov said.

Putin later appeared on state television, chairing a meeting on the economy, in which he did not mention the withdrawal, saying that “Russia is well resilient in the face of Western sanctions.”

He added that “the methods of economic blitzkrieg and the attack they rely on have not succeeded.”

After days of avoiding the issue, Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged on Saturday that it had abandoned Izyum, its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine, and neighboring Palaklia, saying it was a pre-planned “regroupment” of forces.

As thousands of Russian soldiers withdrew, leaving ammunition and equipment behind, Russia fired missiles at power stations on Sunday, causing blackouts in Kharkiv and the neighboring Poltava and Sumy regions.

Ukraine condemned the bombings, saying they were in retaliation for Russia’s military strikes against civilian targets.

On Monday, Russian strikes again cut electricity and water supplies in the city of Kharkiv itself, killing at least one person, according to the city’s mayor.

The area’s emergency services said on Facebook that the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and key infrastructure facilities during the day led to the outbreak of several fires in the city.

“As a result of the bombing, five fires broke out. Administrative buildings, construction sites and even a number of cars caught fire,” she added, noting that the largest fire broke out in an apartment building and that around 100 firefighters at the site.

Moscow, which denies targeting civilians, did not comment, while the White House condemned the strikes and pledged to continue its support for Kiev.

In an overnight speech, Zelensky said that Ukrainians would rather live without gas, water, food or heating than live in the Moscow orbit.

Addressing the Russians, he added: “Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not so terrifying or deadly to us as your ‘brotherhood and friendship’.”

Zelensky previously said the latest offensive could be a breakthrough in the six-month-old war, with more territory likely to be recaptured in the winter if Kiev gets stronger weapons.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia likely ordered the withdrawal from the Kharkiv region, west of the Uskil River.

This meant the abandonment of the only railway that supported Russian operations in the northeast.

Kiev, whose forces reached the river when it captured the railway hub of Kobyansk on Saturday, indicated that the Russians had already begun to retreat further.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces had left Svatov in the Luhansk region, a town about 20 kilometers east of Oskil. Reuters could not confirm the situation there.

Britain said Moscow is also struggling to bring reserve forces to the south as Ukraine seeks to isolate thousands of Russian soldiers on the west bank of the Dnipro river through its offensive, forcing most Russian forces to focus on “emergency defensive measures”.

A spokesman for the military command in southern Ukraine said the forces had recaptured 500 square kilometers of land in the south. It was not possible to independently verify the situation there.

setbacks

Zelensky said that his country’s forces have recovered six thousand square kilometers of the lands occupied by Russia since the beginning of the month.

“Since the beginning of September until today, our fighters have liberated more than six thousand square kilometers of Ukraine’s territory in the south and east,” Zelensky added in a video night speech.

More Russian withdrawals will soon put Ukrainian forces in a position to attack the territories controlled by Moscow and its local proxies since 2014. Denis Pushilin, the leader of the pro-Moscow separatist administration in the Donetsk region, acknowledged that there is pressure from many directions.

“At least we stopped the enemy in Lyman,” he said in a Telegram post that evening, referring to a front-line city east of Izium. He also talked about battles in Bakhmut and Vohlidar in the south.

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