Ukraine captures key towns as Putin’s forces hit by lightening advance
Published by The Mail on Sunday (11th September, 2022)
UKRAINE has made stunning advances in a rapid counter-offensive that has caught the Kremlin by surprise, with intelligence experts hailing a ‘major turning point’ in the six-month war.
It has led to the recapture of several key towns in the east as Vladimir Putin’s forces fled in disarray from a collapsing frontline.
The speed of advance, with photographs shared by Kyiv officials of their troops raising the Ukrainian flag in liberated towns after advancing more than 30 miles, has sparked open talk in Moscow that their invasion will end in humiliating defeat.
Towns entered by Ukrainian troops include Kupiansk, a key rail centre whose loss would severely hinder Russian supply lines. There are also reports of Putin’s troops and collaborators fleeing Izyum, another crucial logistics hub for the invasion.
Russian military journalists reported that their troops had fled Izyum on the only remaining road in another sign of the apparent rout, which has seen Putin’s forces lose control of an estimated 3,000 square kilometres in just a few days.
Moscow later confirmed it had retreated from Izyum and a third strategically important town called Balaklyia to ‘regroup’ and ‘bolster’ forces elsewhere.
Natalia Popova, adviser to the head of Kharkiv regional council, shared images on social media of Ukrainian troops holding their flag in front of Kupiansk city hall with a Russian flag at their feet.
The town was seized by Russia within days of their invasion in February. ‘Kupiansk is Ukraine. ‘Glory to the armed forces of Ukraine,’ wrote Popova.
The dramatic advances follow President Volodymyr Zelensky’s declaration last Friday night that 30 settlements had been liberated in Kharkiv region over the past few days as his forces sliced through a weak spot in Russian lines.
The capture of Kupiansk, if confirmed, is a huge setback for Putin that potentially leaves up to 10,000 Kremlin troops cut off from supplies. Abandoned boxes of ammunition in the town underlined the speed of their retreat.
In Hrakove, one of the recaptured villages, eyewitness told of seeing burned-out military vehicles bearing the hated ‘Z’ symbol of the Kremlin invasion.
There was also more evidence of Russian atrocities. One local man disclosed that the occupiers forced him to bury two bodies at gunpoint. He then led police to a grave that contained a pair of corpses showing signs of torture.
Maria Avdeeva, a security analyst who visited Hrakove after it was liberated three days ago, told The Mail on Sunday that the 50 remaining residents were in ‘very bad condition’ after spending six months ‘terrified’ while hiding in basements. ‘They could hear the generators providing electricity for the Russians but they had no power, no phone connection, their village is almost totally destroyed and they have had no idea what has been happening.’
Ukraine’s advance in the east came as a surprise as it is just one week since Kyiv announced the start of a counter-attack to reclaim Russian-occupied terrain hundreds of kilometres away at the opposite end of the battlefront in Kherson in the south.
Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at St Andrews University, said Kyiv has exploited Russia’s movement of its strongest forces to shore up defences in Kherson. ‘This is big,’ he said. ‘Once troops start being pushed back, then it can be hard to stop. If Russia cannot mobilise more forces, they are in serious trouble.’
Even one Russia-appointed stooge official in the Kharkiv region, Vitaly Ganchev, admitted: ‘The very fact of a breach of our defences is already a substantial victory for the Ukrainian armed forces.’
The Institute for the Study of War, an influential US-based think-tank, said Kupiansk’s recapture would ‘severely degrade’ Russian ground lines of communication.
Russian social-media channels published footage of traffic jams formed by cars fleeing the fighting, admitting they included collaborators fearing reprisals from Ukrainian police or partisans. In another setback for Putin, pictures emerged last week of an officer on his knees after being captured. He is thought to be Lieutenant General Andrei Sychevoi, the highest-ranking Russian officer taken prisoner since the Second World War.
Oleksandr V Danylyuk, an intelligence expert and head of the Centre for Defence Reforms think-tank, said: ‘We are witnessing a major turning point. You can expect some more surprises soon.’
Putin’s officials have not commented on the counter-offensive, though Moscow’s defence ministry published video footage that purported to show reinforcement troops rushing towards the Kharkiv region. But there is increasing dissent from prominent pro-war and nationalist figures, often with military links, who accuse defence chiefs of bungling the invasion.
These include the Igor Girkin, a former intelligence colonel involved in the pro-Russian separatist insurgency in Donbas eight years ago. He has predicted the war will end with the ‘complete defeat’of Russia’.