Ukraine needs to secure the vast territory it has withdrawn from a possible Russian counter-attack, the country’s defense minister has warned, as he said Kyiv’s lightning strike was “better than expected”.
The attack has decimated the Kremlin’s forces, leading to the capture of approximately 3,000 km of Ukrainian territory and an unusual admission by Russia’s Defense Ministry that its troops had to retreat.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov warned the Financial Times, “A counter-attack frees the area and after that you have to control it and be ready to defend it:” Of course, we have to be worried, Has worried us for years.”
On Sunday night, Russia launched an attack against Ulkren with artillery and missile strikes launched from the Black Sea.
In Kharkiv, the night sky brightened after a strike at the country’s second largest thermal power plant, leading to a total blackout. A total blackout also affected the Donetsk region, while Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy experienced partial ones.
Russian forces are “terrorists and remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, goal is to deprive people of light and heat,” tweeted President Volodmir Zelensky.
Russia’s most vocal pro-war commentators celebrated the civilian areas being left without power: “Hey neighbours, what’s up with the light?” Russia Today editor Margarita Simonyan took a jibe. However, late on Sunday, a senior Ukrainian official, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said power had been returned in some areas.
The Ukrainian blitzkrieg – which Reznikov described as a “snowball rolling down the hill” – is the biggest blow to Russia since the full-scale offensive ordered by its President Vladimir Putin on February 24. was.
Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has backed Moscow by sending troops, criticized Russia’s military for the retreat and said he would speak to “the country’s leadership” if their strategy did not change.
“Mistakes were made. I think they’ll draw conclusions. It can’t be nice when you tell someone the truth to their face, but I like to tell the truth,” he said.
The latest Ukrainian offensive marks a breakthrough along the northernmost of the three active front lines in the conflict and Kyiv’s forces continued to press home on Sunday. The commander of the armed forces, General Valery Zaluzny, said they were just 50 km from the Russian border. Photos he posted on Telegram showed military posts that Russian soldiers had left in such a hurry that food was left on wooden tables.
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to liberate the territories occupied by Russia,” wrote Zaluzny. “Since the beginning of September, more than 3,000 sq km has been returned.”
Russian sympathizers also fled the occupied territories in the Luhansk region southeast of Kharkiv, said Serhi Heyde, the Ukrainian head of the region’s military administration.
“The mass occupation is on the verge of ending,” Heyde said on Ukrainian television on Sunday. “Maybe it [victory] It won’t happen in a day or two, but it will happen soon. , , We can say that their morale is broken.”
Reznikov said Ukraine’s troops were exhausted after the six-day attack but their morale was high because “it is a sign that Russia can be defeated”.
He warned that Russian reinforcements could launch a counter-attack on his country’s extended supply lines. If they move too far, the Ukrainian army could also be surrounded by new Russian troops.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock said Ukraine’s progress is a moment of hope. “This is what we need,” she said, speaking on a visit to Kyiv.
Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged on Saturday that its forces had retreated from the strategic city of Izium, claiming it had decided to “reorganize” and move them southeast to the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian troops besieged Kupyansk north of Izyum, a road and rail hub that supplies Russian defenses in north-eastern Ukraine. This left thousands of Russian soldiers cut off from supplies on the fierce battlefield.
Analysts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War said the liberation of Izium “will be the most significant Ukrainian military achievement since winning the Battle of Kyiv in March.” He hoped that Ukrainian forces would “capture the city of Izium in the next 48 hours, if they had not already done so”.
Officials and military analysts cautioned that the success of the offensive did not mean that Ukrainian forces were about to withdraw Russian forces to the border.
Reznikov said the nearly simultaneous counter-offensive around Kherson was making slow progress because it was an agricultural area “with irrigation channels” the Russians could use as defensive trenches.
There were reported casualties and the General Staff of Ukraine said 1,200 Chechen troops had been deployed to reinforce Russian positions.
Reznikov said Chechens were being used to prevent frontline troops from withdrawing from their positions.
Dara Masikot, a Russian military expert at the US think tank RAND Corporation, said the news of a withdrawal from the Defense Ministry would spread rapidly. “Moscow should not underestimate how quickly bad news, panic and rumors can unfold – especially given the exhaustion of force that comes from months of fighting, lack of reserves and comfort.”