Ukraine continues Kharkiv offensive despite apparent Russian retaliation - The Guardian

Ukraine's forces have continued to press their counterattack in Kharkiv, seeking to take control of almost all of the province, as Russia launched dozens of air and missile strikes on power plants and other locations in apparent retaliation for Kyiv's success.

Ukraine's troops headed north, reportedly recapturing towns all the way to the Russian border, and a video circulated of a Ukrainian soldier at the centre of the strategic city of Izium as the week-long counteroffensive in the north-east of the country continues.

Late on Monday, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces had recaptured 6,000 square kilometres (2,320 square miles) since the counter-offensive began at the start of September.

"Since the start of September, our soldiers have already liberated 6,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory in the east and south, and we are moving further," Zelensky said in his daily address.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said the "enemy hastily abandons its positions and flees deep into the previously occupied territories" and that "in some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border".

Russia responded by launching missile strikes that cut electricity and water supplies in Kharkiv city for a second time in less than 24 hours, knocking out both on Monday morning just hours after the city authorities had restored 80% of the utilities that had been cut overnight.

Ukraine also said Russia had engaged in 18 missile and 39 airstrikes overnight. At least four civilians were killed and 11 others wounded in Russian attacks in nine regions, the presidential office in Kyiv added.

A Ukrainian MP, Inna Sovsun, said on Monday that four "corpses with signs of torture" had been found by war crime investigators in one newly liberated village in the Kharkiv region. Other corpses of civilians were being recovered after Russian troops had deserted the area, she added.

An official in Izium said at least 1,000 residents had died as a result of six months of fighting, but warned that the true figure could be much higher. Maksym Strelnikov, a city councillor, said the city's medical facilities and 80% of its infrastructure had been destroyed and added: "Izium suffered heavily due to Russian aggression."

Kharkiv map

The Kremlin said on Monday that Russia would achieve all of its aims in Ukraine. In its first public response to Ukraine's gains in the Kharkiv region, which began less than a week ago, the Kremlin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on Monday "the military operation continues" and "it will continue until the goals that were originally set are achieved".

Later, Vladimir Putin was shown on state TV chairing a meeting on the economy at which he made no reference to the military situation and said Russia was holding up in the face of western sanctions. "The economic blitzkrieg tactics, the onslaught they were counting on, did not work," the Russian president said.

Reacting to the missile strikes, his defiant Ukrainian counterpart said the attacks on the country's power grid – particularly feared in the run-up to winter – would not intimidate people.

"Do you still think you can intimidate, break us, force us to make concessions?" Zelenskiy said. "Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst for us are not as scary and deadly as your friendship and brotherhood. We will be with gas, lights, water and food and without you."

Ukraine says Kharkiv power station hit in 'revenge' for Russian defeats – video

Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Monday morning that it believed Russia was likely to have ordered its troops to withdraw "from the entirety of occupied Kharkiv oblast west of the Oskil River", a retreat apparently shown on maps released by Russia's defence ministry on Sunday.

Pockets of Russian resistance remain but the UK ministry said: "Since Wednesday, Ukraine has recaptured territory at least twice the size of Greater London" in successes likely to have "significant implications for Russia's overall operational design".

Ukraine has recaptured more than 1,160 sq miles (3,000 sq km) of territory since last Tuesday, driving Russian forces out of territory west of the Oskil River it had planned to occupy permanently from Izium to the border.

Social media videos showed tanks and other armoured vehicles abandoned in the Russian retreat. Ukrainian military intelligence said that escaping soldiers had engaged "in mass looting, loading generators, telephones, and computers taken from Ukrainians on to their cars". Some schools were robbed and sports equipment stolen from gyms, the GUR said.

Russian military bloggers said the Kremlin's aim was to establish a new frontline along the Oskil, although it was unclear if this could be achieved or if Ukraine would be able to press forward into Luhansk province, which the Russians have almost completely controlled since July.

The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said Russian troops had fled from Svatovo, about 30 miles due east of the Oskil, which was captured over the weekend, and the first significant town from recently recaptured Kupiansk. Only Luhansk separatist troops remained, he said on Monday.

Ukraine's goal was to seize Izium, which Zelenskiy confirmed had been captured on Sunday night. Izium, which is a gateway to the Donbas towns still held by Ukraine, was lost in heavy fighting in March.

"Ukrainian forces have inflicted a major operational defeat on Russia, recapturing almost all Kharkiv oblast in a rapid counteroffensive," said the Institute of the Study of War, a US thinktank.

The GUR claimed that the general commanding Russia's western army group has been sacked in the wake of the retreat in the Kharkiv region. It reported that Gen Roman Berdnikov had been replaced after less than three weeks in his post, but there was no confirmation from Russia.

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