KYIV – Ukraine has claimed full control of Russia’s eastern logistics hub, Lyman, its biggest battlefield gain in weeks, paving the way for further advances aimed at cutting the lines of supply from Russia to its battered troops on a single route.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stinging setback came after he on Friday proclaimed the annexation of four regions covering nearly a fifth of Ukraine, an area that includes Lyman. Kyiv and the West condemned the proclamation as an illegitimate farce.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the capture of the town, where Ukrainian flags were hoisted above municipal buildings on Saturday, demonstrated Ukraine’s ability to dislodge Russian forces and showed the impact that Ukraine’s deployment of advanced Western weapons was having on the conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the success of the country’s soldiers was not limited to Lyman.
Ukrainian forces have also liberated the small settlements of Arkhanhelske and Myrolyubivka in the Kherson region, he said.
Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported that according to Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Group of Ukrainian Forces in the East, Ukrainian forces have taken over Torske, a village in the Donetsk region, about 15 km (9 miles) to the is of Lyman, now released.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify the information.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday it was withdrawing troops from the Lyman area “in connection with the creation of an encirclement threat.”
It did not mention Lyman in its daily update on Sunday, although it said Russian forces had destroyed seven artillery and missile depots in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Donetsk regions.
Russian forces had captured Lyman in Ukraine in May and used it as a hub for their operations in the northern Donetsk region. Its recapture by Ukrainian troops is Russia’s biggest battlefield loss since Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensive in the northeast Kharkiv region in September.
Control of Lyman could prove a “key factor” in helping Ukraine reclaim lost territory in the Luhansk region, which Russia announced had been fully captured in July after weeks of massive advances, the official said. governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Gaidai.
Lyman’s operational importance was due to his command over a crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River, behind which Russia tried to shore up its defences, the UK Ministry of Defense said.
“Thanks to the successful operation in Lyman, we are moving towards the second north-south route … and that means a second line of supply will be interrupted,” said Reserve Colonel Viktor Kevlyuk of the Ukrainian think tank Center for Defense Strategies.
“In this case, the Russian Luhansk and Donetsk group could only be supplied by the (Russian) Rostov region,” Kevlyuk told Espreso TV.
Ukraine’s military said Monday morning that Russian forces had used missiles, airstrikes and artillery in attacks on 35 settlements in the past 24 hours. The Ukrainian Air Force attacked a command post, weapons caches and an anti-aircraft missile complex, and shot down a helicopter, an attack plane and eight drones, he added.
The Zaporizhzhia region governor said Russian forces attacked the city of Zaporizhzhia and nearby villages overnight, with at least 10 missiles.
Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.
The areas claimed by Putin as annexed just over seven months after Russia invaded its neighbor – Donetsk and Luhansk plus Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to the south – make up about 18% of Ukraine’s total area.
The Russian parliament is due to consider bills and ratification treaties on Monday to absorb the regions, said the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin.
A signing ceremony to much Kremlin fanfare on Friday with Russian leaders ensconced in the regions failed to stem a wave of criticism in Russia over the way the military operation is being handled.
Putin’s ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the southern region of Chechnya, on Saturday called for a change in strategy “until the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of nuclear weapons low performance”. The United States says it would react decisively to any use of nuclear weapons.
Other warmongering Russian figures on Saturday criticized the generals and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but refrained from attacking Putin.
The United States was “very encouraged” by Ukraine’s gains, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday.
Pope Francis on Sunday appealed to Putin to stop “this spiral of violence and death” in Ukraine and also called on Zelensky to be open to any “serious peace proposals”.
Zelensky said Friday that peace talks with Russia while Putin was president would be impossible. “We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” he said.
New York Post