Russian forces retreat as Ukraine takes key towns in northeast

KYIV: Ukrainian forces entered the key Russian military stronghold of izium on Saturday, continuing their rapid advance across the northeast and igniting a dramatic new phase in the war. “Izium was liberated today,” the city’s mayor, Valeriy Marchenko, said. While he was not yet in the city himself, he said that emergency services were working to clear it of possible hazards before residents could return.
Russia’s defense ministry — which a day earlier had said it was moving to reinforce its defensive positions in the region — confirmed on Saturday that it had pulled its forces out of Izium, six months after its forces laid siege to and then seized the city. In a statement, it presented the retreat as a preplanned move, intended to strengthen its efforts in the east where its army has been bogged down for weeks.
Maintaining control of towns and cities has at times proven tenuous over the course of the war, and it was not clear how secure Ukraine’s control over Izium was and what efforts Russia might take to try to win it back.
But the loss of Izium — a strategically important railway hub that Russian forces seized in the spring after a bloody weekslong battle — could mark a turning point in the war, dwarfed only by Russia’s humiliating defeat around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in the spring. The first signs that Russian forces would retreat rather than fight emerged late on Friday. “Friday, Russians put a white flag nearby the ra-ilway station,” Yevhen, a Ukrainian officer who participated in the liberation of Izium, said. “There was street fighting all over the night. ”
The lightning offensive in the country’s northeast has reshaped what had become a grinding war of attrition. In a matter of days, Russian front lines have buckled and Moscow’s troops have fled and one village after another. Ukraine’s Security Service posted a photo on telegram showing members of the special forces in Kupiansk, just north of Izium. “We move further!” the post read, according to the Ukrinform news agency.
In his overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said the military had recaptured more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region, where Izium is. “We are gradually taking control of new settlements,” he said.
The eastern offensive has cleared Russian forces from over 2,500 square kilometers of land in the Kharkiv region as of Friday, according to an estimate by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.


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