Ukraine increases pressure on retreating Russian troops

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian troops have increased pressure on retreating russian forces on Tuesday, launching a counteroffensive that has produced major gains and a stunning blow to Moscow’s military prestige.

As the advance continued, Ukraine’s border guard services said the army took control of Vovchansk, a city just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Russia that it seized on the first day of the war. Russia acknowledged that it has withdrawn troops of areas in the northeastern region of Kharkiv in recent days.

It was not yet clear if the ukrainian bombardment, which unfolded after months of little discernible movement, could signal a turning point in the nearly seven-month war.

But the country’s officials were upbeat, releasing footage showing their forces burning Russian flags and inspecting charred, abandoned tanks. In one video, border guards tore up a banner that read: “We are one people with Russia.”

Momentum has shifted back and forth before, and Ukraine’s American allies they were careful not to declare a premature victory as Russian President Vladimir Putin still has troops and resources to draw on.

in the face of Russia’s biggest defeat since In their failed attempt to capture Kyiv earlier in the war, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said troops were responding with “massive attacks” in all sectors. But there were no immediate reports of a sudden increase in Russian attacks.

On Monday night, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his troops had so far retaken more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles), an area more than twice the size of Luxembourg, in a matter of weeks.

“The movement of our troops continues,” he said.

Reports of chaos abounded as Russian troops withdrew, as well as claims that they were surrendering en masse. The claims could not be immediately verified.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv is trying to persuade more Russian soldiers to surrender, launching projectiles filled with leaflets before their advance.

“The Russians use you as cannon fodder. Your life means nothing to them. You don’t need this war. Surrender to the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the flyers read.

As dozens of towns and villages were liberated, authorities moved into various areas to investigate alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops against civilians.

The Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said four bodies with signs of torture were found in the village of Zaliznychne. It’s unclear how many other locations investigators have entered.

Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the general staff of the Ukrainian army, accused Russian forces of committing hundreds of war crimes in the territory they once held. He said the danger from minefields in the liberated cities and towns remains high, and high explosives and ammunition have been spread over 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles).

“The defense forces are taking steps to return peaceful life to the liberated communities as soon as possible,” he said.

In a sign of the blow suffered by Moscow, British intelligence said that a main force, the 1st Guards Tank Army, had been “severely degraded” during the invasion and that conventional Russian forces designed to counter NATO had been disbanded. severely weakened.

“It is likely that it will take Russia years to rebuild this capability,” the analysts said.

The setback could renew Russia’s interest in peace talks, said Abbas Gallyamov, an independent Russian political analyst and a former speechwriter for Putin.

But even if Putin were to come to the negotiating table, Zelenskyy has made it clear that Russia must return all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, Gallyamov said.

“This is unacceptable to Moscow, so talks are, strictly speaking, impossible,” he said.

Putin’s previous actions “have restricted his room for manoeuvre”, so he “could not put anything meaningful on the table”.

For talks to be possible, Putin “would have to leave and be replaced by someone relatively unaffected by the current situation,” such as his deputy chief of staff, the mayor of Moscow or the Russian prime minister, Gallyamov said.

The withdrawal did not prevent Russia from hitting the Ukrainian positions. Earlier Tuesday, it shelled the city of Lozova in the Kharkiv region, killing three people and wounding nine, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said.

And Ukrainian officials said Russia continued to bomb Europe’s largest nuclear facility, where the fighting has raised fears of a nuclear disaster. The Nikopol area, which is across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled six times overnight, but no injuries were immediately reported, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

Strikes have also continued unabated in the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest and one that has has been hit by artillery for months.

Zelenskyy specifically criticized Russia for targeting energy infrastructure in its attacks in recent days.

“Hundreds and thousands of Ukrainians found themselves in the dark, without electricity. Houses, hospitals, schools, community infrastructure… places that have absolutely nothing to do with the infrastructure of the armed forces of our country.”

He said the attacks could only target one thing.

“This is a sign of the desperation of those who masterminded this war. This is how they react to the defeat of the Russian forces in the Kharkiv region. They can’t do anything to our heroes on the battlefield.”

Among Kharkiv’s battle-scarred apartment buildings, a man who returned to feed the birds struck a defiant tone, saying a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive would likely provoke harsh Russian retaliation against civilian targets. But he said that he would not be able to intimidate ordinary Ukrainians.

Putin “does not know what to do, and he will hit here even more. Just on infrastructure,” said Serhii, who only gave his first name. “He is going to strike so that we don’t have water, electricity, to create more chaos and intimidate us. But he will not succeed because we will survive, and Putin will soon croak!”

The counteroffensive has provoked rare public criticism of Putin’s war. Meanwhile, some of his supporters in Russia downplayed the idea that success belonged to Ukraine, instead blaming Western weapons and fighters for the losses.

“It was not Ukraine that attacked Izium, but NATO,” read a headline in the state-backed daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, referring to one of the areas where Russia said it had withdrawn its troops.

Elsewhere, residents of a Russian village across the Ukrainian border were evacuated after Ukrainian troops killed one person in shelling, according to the Russian news agency Tass.

The report quoted the head of the local administration in Logachevka as saying that Ukrainian troops opened fire at a border checkpoint.

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Arhirova reported from Kyiv.

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Follow AP’s war coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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