Ukrainian forces kept up their surge in the country’s east Saturday after punching through Russian defenses in a surprise counteroffensive that could prove a decisive turning point in the war.
Kyiv said its military had recaptured swaths of territory in a fast-moving thrust centered on the region around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, that threatened to turn into a much broader rout. After days of silence on the subject, Russia’s defense ministry said it was withdrawing troops from two key areas.
“The Russian army in these days is showing the best that it can do — showing its back,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video released by his office Saturday night. “And, of course, it’s a good decision for them to run.”
In recent days Kyiv officials have shared a flood of images and videos from the country’s northeast. Some verified by NBC News show soldiers raising Ukrainian flags over once-occupied cities and villages, or posing victoriously next to road signs.
Others appeared to show troops being met by residents who offered soldiers everything from heartfelt thanks to pancakes.
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based military think tank, said in its latest update Saturday that Ukrainian forces had “captured an estimated 2,500 square kilometers (about 1,000 square miles)” in the area by Friday night. Britain’s Defense Ministry said that “lead elements have advanced up to 50km (31 miles) into previously Russian-held territory on a narrow front.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a Telegram post Saturday that “a decision was made to regroup” some of its troops from the Balakliya and Izyum areas — Izyum had been a major base for Moscow’s troops — and transfer them to Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
The move was made “in order to achieve the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate Donbas,’” the ministry said, referring to the industrial heartland in Ukraine’s east that became the focal point of the Kremlin’s war after it was forced to give up on its assault on the capital, Kyiv.
The ministry had earlier shared video showing military vehicles that it said were rushing to the aid of its forces in the east.
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