Ukrainian leader sees frontline town destroyed as Russian forces dig in

  • Ukraine goes on the offensive in the south and east
  • encounters Russian resistance on both fronts
  • Zelenskiy visits the liberated city
  • Biden says war seems long despite Kyiv success
  • New US military aid to Ukraine likely, White House says

IZIUM, Ukraine, September 14 (Reuters) – Ukraine said it was trying to expand a counter-offensive in the east as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to a devastated and recently recaptured city on Wednesday, but pro-Russian officials said they had halted Kyiv forces for now.

Russian forces suffered a stunning reversal this month after Ukrainian troops carried out a rapid armored push with special forces in the northeast region of Kharkiv, forcing a sometimes hasty and chaotic Russian withdrawal.

Zelenskiy said in a late-night address on Tuesday that his army had liberated about 8,000 km2 (3,100 square miles) of territory so far this month, a strip of land nearly equivalent to the island of Cyprus.

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Reuters was unable to immediately verify the extent of the battlefield successes claimed by Ukraine.

Zelenskiy, who visited the town of Izium, a major logistics hub about 15 km (9.3 miles) from the current eastern front line, said the complete securing and eradication of all pro-Russian elements had been completed in about half of the liberated territory.

Ukrainian troops were now attacking the Russian town of Lyman in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy, and were considering territorial gains in the neighboring Luhansk region which is under Russian control.

“Now there is an assault on Lyman,” Arestovitch said in a video posted to YouTube, also predicting a fight for the town of Svatovo, where he said the Russians had storage depots.

“And that’s what they fear the most – that we take Lyman and then advance on Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” he said, referring to twin towns in the Lugansk region taken by Russia after heavy fighting in June and July.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, said troops loyal to Moscow managed to push back Ukrainian forces trying to enter Lyman and the situation had stabilized for now .

“Nothing worked for the enemy,” Pushilin said, adding that Ukrainian attacks north and south of Lyman had also been repelled.

Asked if Ukraine’s blitz counteroffensive in the east was a turning point in the six-month war, US President Joe Biden said it was hard to say.

“It’s clear that Ukrainians have made significant progress. But I think it’s going to be a long time,” Biden said.

Russian forces still control about a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east, although Kyiv is now on the offensive in both areas.

The White House, which has provided billions of dollars in arms and support to Ukraine, said the United States would likely announce a new military aid package in the “coming days”.

Ukraine’s fastest advance since ousting Russian forces from the capital in March has turned the tide of the six-month war

DEVASTATION

In Izium, recaptured by Ukrainian forces during their lightning counter-offensive, Zelenskiy saw the Ukrainian flag being raised in front of a charred local administration building that had sandbags at its entrance.

No building was spared on the main thoroughfare: an abandoned bathhouse had a hole carved into its side; butcher shops, pharmacies, a shoe store and a beauty salon were sprayed with shrapnel.

Stray dogs – possibly abandoned by runaway owners – scampered off in the destruction, while the golden dome of an Orthodox church was badly damaged.

“I know this area very well,” Zelenskiy told reporters.

“The sight is shocking, but it’s not shocking to me because we… saw the same images of Bucha, of the first deoccupied territories. The same buildings destroyed, people killed.”

After a Russian retreat at the start of the war, dead civilians were found in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv.

In Izium, bus stops were daubed with ‘Z’, the symbol Russian forces use to identify themselves, and the charred remains of tanks and armored personnel carriers lay along the road leading into the town .

With a pink balaclava wrapped around his face for warmth, Lyubov Sinna, 74, said residents were in shock and it was too early to feel safe.

“We waited a long time for our guys. Of course, we feel positive. Joy. But there is also fear – fear that the Russians might come back here,” she said.

“Because we’ve been through all of this for six months. We’ve been sitting in basements. We’ve been through everything it’s possible to go through. We absolutely can’t say we feel safe.”

There was no gas, electricity or water supply in the town, she added, saying she did not know how people would spend the winter.

“PUTIN REFUSES THE CASE”

In a move that suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin had much broader war aims when he ordered the dispatch of tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine on February 24, three people close to the Russian leadership told Reuters that Putin had rejected a tentative deal with Kyiv as the war began.

They said the deal would have satisfied Russia’s demand that Ukraine stay out of NATO and was brokered by Putin’s then-senior envoy on Ukraine. The Kremlin said the Reuters report had “absolutely no relation to reality”. He also said Ukraine’s continued ambitions to join the Western NATO military alliance still posed a threat to Russia. Read more

In addition to its reversals in Ukraine, Russian authorities also face challenges in other former Soviet republics.

Around 100 people have been killed this week in the deadliest fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia since a 2020 war, prompting Putin to appeal for calm. Read more

And on Wednesday, gunfire broke out between guards patrolling the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Kyrgyz border service. Read more

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Reports from Reuters offices; written by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

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