Ukrainian forces kept up the pressure on the beleaguered Russian army, retaking areas in the south and the east and chipping away with each passing day at the territory President Vladimir Putin claimed to annex.
Ukrainian forces pressed through Russian defensive lines in the southern region of Kherson, the General Staff in Kyiv said on Twitter. They also liberated several small towns in Luhansk — a region still mostly controlled by Russia — according to Ukraine’s local governor, Serhiy Haiday.
The army is carrying out “a pretty fast and powerful advance” in the south of the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address. Dozens of settlements in the regions of Kherson as well as Kharkiv in the northeast and the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk have already been liberated this week, he said.
Russian authorities evacuated the local population after Moscow’s forces pulled out of thinly defended areas of Kherson, said occupation official Kirill Stremousov. “They pulled back to prepared positions,” he said on Rossiya-24 state TV.
The Kremlin vowed to recapture territory that’s been retaken by Ukrainian forces, saying Wednesday that occupied regions to which Moscow has laid claim will be “with Russia forever.” But its troops have been losing ground for weeks.
Putin on Sept. 21 ordered a “partial mobilization” calling up at least 300,000 reservists in a bid to regain the initiative after suffering a series of defeats last month in the northeast. He also pushed through hastily-organized referendums - condemned by the United Nations and many governments - to annex the four regions his army partly controls. Altogether, they amount to about 15% of Ukraine’s territory.
Kyiv’s forces are continuing to extend gains, last week also seizing a strategic transport junction, Lyman, opening the way to Luhansk.
Russia’s forces abandoned a string of towns, most on the right bank of the Dnipro river, but also Lyubymivka, on the Russian-dominated eastern side of the river, the Ukrainian General Staff said. Russian troops may also have left a town 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Mykolaiv, capital of the neighboring southern region, said Vitaliy Kim, the local governor.
The advance potentially threatens to isolate Russian troops in the city of Kherson if the Ukrainians keep moving south.
Russian and Western military experts doubt that Putin’s conscription of several hundred thousand more troops who lack training and equipment will turn the tide of the invasion, now in its eighth month. Still, Ukraine is rushing to press its advantage and reclaim as much territory as possible before Russia reinforces its armed forces and the arrival of slushy winter weather conditions makes it more difficult.
Many Russian draft-age men have fled the country to avoid the call-up, while opinion polls have showed widespread shock and alarm at the mobilization as well as increasing pessimism about Russia’s war effort.
Putin told a group of teachers Wednesday that Russia aims to “stabilize” the situation in the annexed areas, but didn’t mention the recent battlefield setbacks. He signed the laws formalizing the annexation Wednesday but a Kremlin spokesman declined to specify exactly what the boundaries of the lands Russia is laying claim to are.
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