Kiev offers a first estimate of the gains made in two weeks of counter-offensive

Ukraine announced new military successes on Monday, saying it had reached the Russian border and retaken the equivalent of seven times the size of Kiev in a month from the Russian army, which retaliated by shelling some of the recaptured areas.

The Ukrainian army had first announced a counter-offensive in the south, before making a lightning advance in the Kharkiv region (northeast) over the past week.

In the east, “the liberation of localities of Russian invaders continues in the regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk,” proclaimed the Ukrainian army. And in the region of Kherson (south), it claimed the recapture of 500 km2 in two weeks, its first estimate of its advances in the south.

In total, “since the beginning of September, our soldiers have already liberated 6000 km2 of Ukrainian territory in the east and south, and we continue to advance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday night in an online video. Kiev claimed on Sunday only 3,000 km2 “liberated”.

Across the front, the Ukrainian army said Monday that it had “managed to drive the enemy out of more than 20 localities” in 24 hours, adding that “Russian troops are hastily abandoning their positions and fleeing.”

In the evening, the head of the Ukrainian presidential cabinet, Andriy Iermak, released a video in which a voiceover explained, “The 14e Separate mechanized brigade reached the border of Kharkiv region with Russia. This is the village of Ternova”, located five kilometers from the Russian border.

Also in the Kharkiv region, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office announced on Monday the discovery of four civilian bodies with “traces of torture” in the village of Zaliznytchné, recently retaken from the Russians. “According to the preliminary version of the investigation, the victims were killed by the Russian military during the occupation of the village,” the prosecution said.

Russian forces have been accused of multiple abuses in Ukraine.

Major operational defeat

On Sunday morning, Nadia Nessolena, 61, was on the street when the first Ukrainian soldiers entered Izioum, in the northeast, which had a population of 50,000 before the war and had become a key point for the logistics and supply of Russian troops.

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“We welcomed them with a tear in our eye. We had been waiting for them for months we are very happy,” she said, referring to a “very difficult” Russian occupation.

The loss of this city could seriously undermine Moscow’s military ambitions in eastern Ukraine, military experts say.

“Ukraine has inflicted a major operational defeat on Russia by retaking almost all of Kharkiv Oblast but the current counteroffensive will not end the war,” warned the Institute for the study of war (ISW).

“Ukrainian soldiers have also regained ground in Lugansk Oblast,” where pro-Russian separatists have, as in neighboring Donetsk Oblast, unilaterally proclaimed a “republic” in 2014, the U.S. think tank added.

Occupation authorities in the Kharkiv region told of moving to Russia’s Belgorod province near the border, officially to help deal with an influx of refugees, according to Russian news agencies.

“In the Kharkiv region the Russian forces have largely given up their gains [territoriaux] to the Ukrainians and withdrew. To the north and east, most of these forces have returned to Russia,” said a senior U.S. officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The Ukrainians are conducting operations that force the Russians to have to decide on the battlefield where they will direct their resources, and how,” he summarized. And given the Russians’ difficulties “in terms of supply and logistics, as well as command it is a very difficult problem for them to solve.

Moscow said Monday that it had shelled areas recovered by Ukraine not far from Kharkiv, in the Kupiansk and Izum sectors.

The Ukrainian General Staff, meanwhile, counted some 40 Russian strikes during the day “on Ukrainian military and civilian facilities” and reported damage to multiple “critical infrastructure of peaceful Ukrainian cities,” including Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

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The Russian offensive launched on 24 February will continue “until the objectives are achieved”, the Kremlin insisted, according to which there are currently “no prospects for negotiations” between Moscow and Kiev.

One of the main pro-Russian separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, acknowledged on Monday a “difficult” situation on the eastern front, while assuring that Russian forces are “holding out”.

At the same time, a Ukrainian shelling on the Russian border post of Logachevka left at least one person dead and four injured, according to the Russian governor of the Belgorod region.

Success in the South

Also in the Kherson region, “our successes in the last two weeks are quite convincing,” said Natalia Goumeniouk, the military spokeswoman for the south on Monday.

Kirill Stremooussov, the deputy head of the Russian occupation in Kherson, said that “a development like in Kharkiv is simply impossible.

Also in the south, the situation remained worrying at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant of Zaporizhia, whose six reactors are now shut down.

In a telephone conversation Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron told him that “the Russian occupation” was “the cause of the risks” to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and demanded that the Russian army withdraw its weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is in contact with both sides to establish a safe zone around the plant, said Monday that there were positive signs. “I have seen signs that they are interested in such an agreement,” said its director general, Rafael Grossi.

In the eastern, northern, southern and central regions of Ukraine that suffered widespread power cuts Sunday night, blamed by Kiev on Russian strikes, power has partly returned.

In the Kharkiv region, “80 percent” of the electricity and water supply has been restored, according to Ukrainian authorities.