© Reuters. A damaged car is seen in a damaged residential building in Saltivka, one of the worst damaged residential areas in Kharkiv city, Ukraine, September 6, 2022, during the Russian attack on Ukraine forward. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Ratynskyi
By Max Hunder and Vitali Hnidyi
KIEV, Ukraine/Hrakov (Reuters) – Moscow gave up its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday after Ukrainian forces threatened to raid the area, collapsing abruptly on one of the war’s main fronts.
The rapid fall of Izium in Kharkiv province was Moscow’s worst defeat since troops were pushed back from the capital Kyiv in March and could be a watershed in a six-month war that has seen thousands of Russians Soldiers abandoned their ammunition and equipment stocks and they fled.
The official TASS news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the surrounding area to intensify operations elsewhere near Donetsk.
The head of the Russian government in the Kharkiv region he controls has told all residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to “save lives”, TASS news agency reported. Witnesses described traffic jams for people fleeing Russian-held territory.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed that they have taken over Izium, but Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to President Vladimir Zelensky, has released a photo of the army on its outskirts. Earlier, he tweeted a grape emoji. The name of the city means “grape”.
Russia announced its withdrawal just hours after Ukrainian troops captured the northern town of Kupyansk, the only rail hub supplying the entire Russian front in northeastern Ukraine. This led thousands of Russian soldiers to abruptly cut off supplies to a section of the front line that had seen some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
There are signs of trouble elsewhere in Russia’s remaining positions on the Eastern Front, with pro-Russian officials acknowledging difficulties elsewhere and Ukrainians hinting at further progress.
A few days ago, Kyiv troops crossed the front lines and recaptured dozens of towns and villages with rapid mechanized assaults of dozens of kilometers a day.
Earlier on Saturday, Ukrainian officials posted photos of their troops raising the country’s blue and yellow flags in front of the Kupyansk city hall, in a decisive blow to the Russian garrison supplied by the Kupyansk Railway .
“In order to achieve the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate the Donbass, it was decided to integrate the Russian troops located in the Baraklia and Izium regions to intensify efforts in the direction of Donetsk,” TASS quoted the Russian Ministry of Defense as saying. .” . As mentioned.
The Russian army had already abandoned Baraklia a few days ago.
In Hrakov, one of dozens of villages recaptured during the Ukrainian advance, Reuters saw burned vehicles bearing the “Z” symbol of the Russian invasion. The crates, still full of ammunition, were littered with rubbish in places the Russians had apparently hastily abandoned.
“Hello everyone, we’re from Russia,” was sprayed on the wall. Three bodies lay in white body bags in the yard.
Regional police chief Volodymyr Tymoshenko said Ukrainian police intervened the previous day and checked the identities of local residents who had been living under Russian occupation since the second day of the invasion.
“The first function is to provide the help they need. The next task is to document the crimes committed by the Russian invaders in the territories they temporarily occupied. »
A witness in Valuiki, a small town in Russia’s Belgorod region, close to the Ukrainian border, told Reuters she saw dozens of Kupyansk people, the family eating in a roadside car sleep.
“I saw a lot of people from Kupyansk in the market today. They said that the Ukrainian army has taken half of the town and Russia is retreating … the battle is getting closer,” the witness said.
The abrupt abandonment of Russia’s front lines south of Kharkov is the biggest shift in the battlefield since Russia’s initial attack on Kyiv failed. This quickly and abruptly ended a period when the war was fought ruthlessly on static fronts in favor of Moscow’s superiority in raw firepower.
Russian troops fought to capture Izium early in the war and then used the town as a logistics base for one of its main campaigns – a months-long offensive into the neighbouring Donbass region from the north.
There are signs that Ukraine could use the chaos to launch attacks elsewhere on the Eastern Front. Denis Pushlin, head of Russia’s separatist government in Donetsk province, said the situation in Liman, east of Izium, “remains quite difficult – like a series of settlements in the northern part of the republic”.
Further east, Ukrainian officials have hinted at a possible attempt to retake Lysychansk, which Moscow seized in July after one of the bloodiest battles in the war in weeks.
Ukrainian media quoted Ukrainian governor Serhiy Gaidai as saying that Ukrainian troops had been spotted on the outskirts of the city. The town’s name means “fox,” and Yermak tweeted a fox emoji after his grape tweet.