Russia’s Defense Ministry stated on Saturday that it was withdrawing soldiers from two districts in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region where a Ukrainian counteroffensive had made significant progress in the previous week. The announcement came after days of apparent Ukrainian advances south of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, in what could be the biggest battlefield win for Ukrainian forces since thwarting a Russian effort to grab the capital, Kyiv, at the outset of the almost seven-month war.

According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, troops would be reassembled from the Balakliya and Izyum areas and relocated to the eastern Donetsk region. Izyum was a key Russian military base in the Kharkiv region, and earlier last week, social media images showed Balakliya inhabitants happily shouting as Ukrainian troops marched in.

Allegations on Pullout

The allegation of a pullout to concentrate on Donetsk is identical to Russia’s explanation for withdrawing its forces from the Kyiv region earlier this year after failing to conquer the capital. Ukrainian officials claimed huge advances in the Kharkiv region earlier Saturday, claiming that their troops had cut off key supplies to Izyum.

Oleh Nikolenko, a Foreign Ministry official, reportedly suggested that soldiers had retaken Kupiansk, a town along the main supply route to Izyum that had long been a focus on the Russian front line and the site of significant artillery and another fighting. Nikolenko posted a photo on Twitter of soldiers in front of a government building in Kupiansk, 73 kilometers (45 miles) north of Izyum.

The Ukrainian Security Service announced hours later that forces were in Kupiansk, implying that it had been taken. The military did not immediately confirm its entry into the town, which Russia took in February. Social media videos purport to show the Ukrainian military at a roadside roadblock on the outskirts of Izyum. The photographs show a big statue with the city’s name. Ukrainian forces refused to accept taking control of the city.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that Ukrainian troops had moved up to 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kharkiv and that Russian forces around Izyum were becoming “increasingly isolated.” The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research tank, also mentioned massive Ukrainian gains, saying that Kyiv had taken over 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles) in its eastern push. According to the institute, “disorganized Russian forces (were) captured in the quick Ukrainian advance,” citing social media photographs of apparent Russian detainees seized at Izyum and adjacent towns.

Vladislav Sokolov Statement

The head of the Russian-appointed local administration, Vladislav Sokolov, said on social media that officials in Izyum had begun transporting inhabitants to Russia. The conflict in eastern Ukraine coincides with a southern attack centered on Kherson. According to analysts, Russia may have sent troops from the east to reinforce the latter area, allowing the Ukrainians to strike a vulnerable front line. According to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, the Russians had no food or fuel for their forces in the area since Kyiv had cut off their supply routes.

Kyiv officials have been tight-lipped for weeks about plans for a counteroffensive to recover areas taken by Russia early in the war, advising inhabitants not to share information on social media. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the other hand, said on Friday that forces had recaptured more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the counteroffensive began.

He commented after the Ukrainian governor of Kharkiv reported that the national flag had been hoisted above Balakliya, which Ukrainian troops reclaimed on Thursday after a six-month occupation.

A 62-year-old woman was murdered in a Russian missile strike in the Kharkiv region when her home was devastated overnight, according to Ukrainian rescue services. Syniehubov also accused Moscow of annihilating Kyiv-retaken towns. Five citizens were hospitalized in the Izyum area, he added through Telegram, while nine more were injured elsewhere in the province.

In the besieged Donbas, the Ukrainian governor reported civilians were killed and injured overnight by Russian shelling near Bakhmut, a key objective of Russia’s delayed advance. According to Pavlo Kyrylenko on Telegram, two persons were killed, and two more were injured in Bakhmut and the neighboring town of Yahidne.

Enerhodar Updates

According to the city’s Vladislav Sokolov, Dmytro Orlov, electricity and water have been restored in the Russian-held city of Enerhodar, which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power station. In recent weeks, Enerhodar and its Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant have been repeatedly shelled, which Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of doing.

Fears of a radioactive leak have been raised at the plant, which has been cut off from outside power sources. The facility has been forced to rely on power from its lone operational reactor for system cooling and other safety measures.

Orlov stated that workers from the plant assisted in restoring power to Enerhodar, but it was unclear whether the electricity came from the plant or a nearby thermal producing station. Also, on Saturday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv and stated that Europe would not be weary of assisting Ukraine, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to put pressure on Ukraine by withholding energy supplies.

According to Baerbock, Germany will assist Ukraine in locating and removing explosive munitions left by Russian troops in places where they have been forced back.

Despite Ukraine’s achievements, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned on Friday that the fight would likely last months. Blinken said the situation has reached a tipping point and asked Ukraine’s Western backers to stay strong during what might be a harsh winter.

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