Ukrainian troops expanded their territorial gains Monday, pushing all the way to the country’s northeastern border in places, and claimed to have captured a record number of Russian soldiers as part of the lightning advance that forced Moscow to make a hasty retreat.
A spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian troops were surrendering en masse as “they understand the hopelessness of their situation.” A Ukrainian presidential adviser said there were so many POWs that the country was running out of space to accommodate them.
Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered over newly liberated towns across a wide swath of reclaimed land. The Ukrainian military said it had freed more than 20 settlements in 24 hours. In recent days, Kyiv’s forces have captured territory at least twice the size of greater London, according to the British Defense Ministry.
According Oryx blog, Ukraine has captured 123 T-72 and T-90 tanks, ammunitions, Soviet-era Ak-47 assault rifles and infantry fighting vehicles in Lyman.
After months of little discernible movement on the battlefield, the momentum has lifted Ukrainian morale and provoked rare public criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
“In some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border with the Russian Federation,” said Oleh Syniehubov, governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region.
Meanwhile in Russia, signs of disarray emerged as Russian military bloggers and other commentators chastised the Kremlin for failing to mobilize more forces and take stronger action against Ukraine.
Russia has continuously stopped short of calling its invasion a war, instead describing it as a “special military operation” and relying on on a limited contingent of volunteers instead of a mass mobilization that could spur civil discontent and protest.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed leader of the Russian region of Chechnya, publicly criticized the Russian Defense Ministry for what he called “mistakes” that made the Ukrainian blitz possible.
Even more notable, such criticism seeped onto state-controlled Russian TV
Some in Russia blamed Western weapons and fighters for the losses.
“It’s not Ukraine that attacked Izium, but NATO,” read a headline in the state-supported Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, referring to one of the areas where Russia said it has withdrawn troops.
Elsewhere, residents of a Russian village just across the border from Ukraine were evacuated after shelling by Ukrainian troops killed one person, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
The report cited the head of the local administration in Logachevka, who said Ukrainian troops opened fire at a border checkpoint.
Pro-Kremlin separatists reported that Ukrainian troops were approaching the town of Lyman, a rail hub captured by Russia in late May that offers access to bridges over the nearby Siversky Donets river.
Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, acknowledged that the situation was “difficult.”
Even amid Ukraine’s ebullience, the casualties kept mounting. Ukraine’s presidential office said Monday that at least four civilians were killed and 11 others wounded in a series of Russian attacks in nine regions of the country. The U.N. Human Rights Office said last week that 5,767 civilians have been killed so far.
Among Monday’s attacks were strikes on residential areas in Kharkiv that killed at least one civilian and set multiple fires, local officials said.
In a reminder of the war’s toll, a council member in Izium accused enemy forces of killing civilians and committing other atrocities. Maksym Strelnikov told reporters Monday in an online briefing that hundreds of people had died during the fighting and after Russia seized the town in March.
Many died from shelling and could not get a proper burial, he said. His claims could not be immediately verified, but similar scenes have played out in other places captured by Russian forces.
The Ukrainian military also claimed to have found more evidence of human rights violations by Russian occupiers. It did not elaborate.
Izium was a major base for Russian forces in the Kharkiv region. The first Ukrainian flag was raised over the city on Saturday, according to Strelnikov. Residents, some wrapped in the country’s flag, greeted Ukrainian forces and offered them food.
Ukraine said the Russians continued shelling Nikopol across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia power plant, damaging several buildings there and leaving Europe’s largest nuclear facility in a precarious position. The last operational reactor in that plant has been shut down in a bid to prevent a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Monday that Kyiv “will likely increasingly dictate the location and nature of the major fighting.”
The British Defense Ministry said the retreat would likely further deteriorate the trust Russian forces have in their commanders and put Moscow’s troops on the back foot.
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