Ukrainian fighters have recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours alone as their rapid counteroffensive continues, Kiev said.
“The liberation of localities under Russian occupation in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions continues,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a situation report.
It added that the towns of Velykyi Burluk and Dvorichna in the north of the Kharkiv region were the latest to have been abandoned by Russian troops.
Under pressure from the Ukrainian counteroffensives, Russia’s Defence Ministry announced the withdrawal of its troops from the Kharkiv region at the weekend, claiming it was part of a strategic “regrouping.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had previously announced the recapture of the strategically important city of Izyum, with videos later emerging of Ukrainian soldiers raising the national flag there.
According to the general staff, Russian troops have also withdrawn from the town of Svatove in the Luhansk region, although separatist-aligned militias remain in action in the area.
“In the face of Ukrainian advances, Russia has likely ordered the withdrawal of its troops from the entirety of occupied Kharkiv Oblast west of the Oskil River,” British intelligence said in an update.
“Isolated pockets of resistance remain in this sector, but since Wednesday, Ukraine has recaptured territory at least twice the size of Greater London,” it continued.
Despite the apparent success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared to double down on Moscow’s position on Monday.
Peskov stressed that Russia would continue its “special military operation” until its goals were met, according to the Interfax news agency.
The Kremlin spokesperson was evasive, however, when asked by journalists whether Russia’s military leadership still enjoyed the confidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When asked how Putin reacted to the news that Russian troops were withdrawing from the Kharkiv region, he simply said that Russia’s president would be kept informed of all military developments.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said Kiev must accept Moscow’s current conditions for negotiations, warning that in the future Russia would only accept Ukraine’s unconditional surrender.
The current ‘ultimatums’ are child’s play compared to what the demands will be in the future: … the total surrender of the Kiev regime to Russia’s conditions,” Medvedev wrote on his Telegram channel.
Medvedev, who was once regarded as a potential agent for change in Russia but has since shown himself as one of the invasion’s most ardent supporters, threatened Ukraine with “Judgement Day,” should it attempt to retake the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula.
The former president’s threats may have been a reaction to comments made by Zelensky in a CNN interview on Sunday, in which he said that he was not currently interested in negotiating with Russia as he saw no readiness for constructive talks among the Moscow leadership.
Zelensky said that the Russian preconditions for starting peace talks would see Ukraine being eaten up piece by piece and called Moscow’s tactics “Russian cannibalism.”
Instead, Zelensky said that Kiev intended to recapture all areas of Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Russian troops.
The Kremlin’s conditions for starting peace talks include ceding the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, recognising Crimea as Russian territory, demilitarising Ukraine and pledging not to join NATO in the future.
Meanwhile, Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has called for the creation of a security zone around the embattled Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant in southern Ukraine.
Urging both sides in the conflict to end the shelling of the plant and the nearby area, Grossi conceded to journalists that his proposal did not go as far as full demilitarisation for the reason that “we must keep things simple.”
The radius of the proposed zone and the role of the IAEA team now stationed at the Zaporizhzhya plant had yet to be agreed, he added.
The IAEA confirmed that the shutdown of the last active reactor at the plant was now complete, but also said that the risk of nuclear disaster from shelling remained.
He stressed that the atomic material at the site would still require cooling despite the last reactor being shut down.
After Russian missile strikes knocked out power supplies in large areas of Ukraine at the weekend, Zelensky used his daily video address to call on the country’s allies to expedite their delivery of air defence systems to Ukraine, saying that “together we can overcome Russian terror.”
Russian strikes on a power plant near the city of Kharkiv left large parts of eastern Ukraine without electricity on Sunday night, Zelensky said, calling the shelling “revenge” for the Ukrainian military’s impressive advance in the Kharkiv region in the past few days. (dpa/NAN)