BALAKLIIA, Ukraine: Ukraine aims to liberate all territory occupied by invading Russian forces after pushing them back in a swift counteroffensive in the northeast, a goal US President Joe Biden has said is “a long term” to achieve.
In a speech on Tuesday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky said about 8,000 square kilometers had been liberated by Ukrainian forces so far this month, apparently all in the northeast region of Kharkiv.
“Stabilisation measures” have been completed in about half of this territory, Zelensky said, “and in a liberated area of about the same size, stabilization measures are still ongoing.”
Reuters was unable to immediately verify the extent of the battlefield successes claimed by Ukraine. The total area quoted by Zelensky corresponds roughly to the size of the Greek island of Crete.
When asked if Ukraine had reached a turning point in the six-month war, Biden said it was hard to say.
“It is clear that the Ukrainians have made significant progress. But I think it will be long. »
The White House, which has provided billions of dollars in weapons and support, said earlier that the United States would likely announce a new military aid package for Ukraine in the “coming days”. Russian forces moved out of defensive positions, particularly in and around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, a US spokesman said.
Since Moscow abandoned its main stronghold in the northeast on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have retaken dozens of towns in a stunning change in the momentum of the battlefield.
Russian forces still control about a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east, but Kyiv is now on the offensive in both areas.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has raised the possibility of moving to the eastern province of Luhansk, which together with Donetsk is known as Donbass, a large industrial region near the border with Russia.
“Now there is an assault on Lyman and there could be an advance on Siversk,” Arestovych said in a video posted to YouTube, referring to two towns. He predicted a fight for the town of Svatovo, where he said the Russians had storage depots.
“And that’s what they fear the most – that we take Lyman and then advance on Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. And they would be cut off from Svatovo,” he said.
Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic run by Russian proxies, said in a video message that Lyman remained in their hands. “The situation has stabilized. The enemy naturally tries to advance in small groups but the allied forces (led by Russia) push them back completely.
Speaking in the central square of Balakliia, a crucial military supply hub captured by Ukrainian forces late last week, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said 150,000 people had been liberated from Russian domination in the region.
Ukrainian flags had been hoisted and a large crowd had gathered to receive humanitarian aid packages. A shopping center was destroyed but many buildings remained intact, with shops closed and barricaded.
“The goal is to liberate the Kharkiv region and beyond – all territories occupied by the Russian Federation,” Malyar said on the road to Balakliia, located 74 km (46 miles) southeast of Kharkiv .
The road from Balakliia through the liberated areas was littered with charred vehicles and destroyed military equipment.
Groups of Ukrainian soldiers smoked, smiled and chatted by the side of the road. A soldier was lying on top of a tank as if it were the sofa in his living room.
In the nearby village of Verbivka, emotional but cheerful residents, many of whom are of retirement age, recounted the frightening lives they led under nearly seven months of Russian occupation.
“It was scary: we tried to walk around less, so they would see us less,” said Tetiana Sinovaz.
Nadia Khvostok, 76, described the traumatic occupation and the arrival of Ukrainian troops, saying residents welcomed them “with tears in their eyes”.
There were abandoned Russian vehicles, including a military truck with a broken windshield.
ELECTRICAL LINES RESTORED
Meanwhile, repair crews restored the two main power lines supplying the city of Kharkiv and its surroundings, electricity company Ukrenergo said after Russian shelling caused blackouts.
The government in Kyiv fears that Russia will step up its attacks on its energy networks as winter approaches and is advocating for anti-aircraft technology from the West to protect infrastructure.
With Russian forces under pressure, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Scholz called on Putin to find a diplomatic solution as soon as possible, based on a ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, a spokesman said. word of the German government.
Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Syehubov, who came to Verbivka, said authorities were trying to record the crimes committed by the Russians during their occupation of the region and recover the bodies of the victims.
“We ask everyone around us for any burial sites that can be found,” he said.
Moscow denies that its forces have committed atrocities in areas they have controlled since Putin ordered the February 24 invasion.