Russian forces retreat amid Ukrainian counter-offensive

Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian forces on Sunday successfully launched their swift counterattack in the northeastern part of the country, even as a nuclear power plant in the Russian-occupied south was shut down completely in an effort to prevent a radiological disaster as fighting raged. nearby.

Kyiv’s actions to retake Russian-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region have forced Moscow to withdraw its forces to prevent an encirclement, leaving behind large numbers of weapons and munitions in a precipitous retreat as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday..

Cheerful Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked the Russians in a video address Saturday night, saying that “the Russian army these days are showing the best they can do – showing their back.”

He posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers raising the national flag over Chkalovsky, another town that was recaptured in the counterattack.

While most attention was focused on the counterattack, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was reconnected to Ukraine’s power grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor. To protect the plant in the middle of the fight.

The station, one of the ten largest atomic power stations in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Ukraine and Russia traded blame for the bombing around them.

Since a Sept. 5 fire from the bombing disrupted the plant’s transmission lines, the reactor has been operating essential safety equipment in so-called “island mode” – an unreliable system that has left the plant increasingly vulnerable to a potential nuclear accident.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation at the plant in a phone call on Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron.

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The commander of the Ukrainian Army, General Valery Zaluzhny, announced that his forces had recaptured about 3,000 square kilometers (about 1,160 square miles) since the counter-offensive began in early September. He noted that Ukrainian forces are only 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) from the border with Russia.

Kharkiv Governor Ole Sinihopov said that Ukrainian forces have regained control of more than 40 settlements in the Kharkiv region, noting that he could not give an exact number because the process is still unfolding.

Defense Minister Anna Maliar said Ukrainian forces were firing propaganda shells at areas they were seeking to advance.

She wrote on Facebook: “One of the methods of informational work with the enemy in areas where there is no Internet is to launch propaganda missiles.” Before moving forward, our defenders salute the Russian invaders and give them the last chance to surrender. Otherwise, only death awaits them on Ukrainian soil.”

The Russian withdrawal represents the biggest field success of Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war. The Kharkiv campaign came as a surprise to Moscow, which moved many of its forces from the region to the south awaiting a counterattack there.

In an embarrassing attempt to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that the withdrawal of troops from Izyum and other areas was aimed at bolstering Moscow’s forces in the neighboring Donetsk region to the south.

The explanation sounded similar to the justification given by Russia for withdrawing from the Kyiv region earlier this year when they failed to capture the capital.

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Russian forces around Izyum were central to Moscow’s efforts to seize the Donetsk region, and their withdrawal would greatly weaken its ability to launch its attack on Ukraine’s strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the south.

A map published by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday showed its forces retreating to a narrow patch of land along the border.

Igor Strelkov, who commanded Russian-backed forces when the separatist conflict erupted in Donbass in 2014, mocked the Russian Defense Ministry’s explanation for the retreat, noting that the handover of Russian territory near the border was a “contribution to a Ukrainian settlement.”

The withdrawal caused an angry reaction from Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who complained of it, calling it a major defeat, and urging the Kremlin to intensify its war effort. Many have sharply criticized Russian authorities for continuing fireworks and other lavish celebrations in Moscow, which falls on holiday in the city on Saturday, despite the Ukraine disaster.

As Russian troops hurriedly retreated from Izyum under Ukrainian fire on Saturday, Putin attended the inauguration of a huge Ferris wheel in a Moscow park, although it was closed for repair shortly thereafter. It also opened a new transportation line and a sports arena.

This action highlighted the Kremlin’s narrative that the war, which it calls a “special military operation,” was going according to plan without affecting Russians’ daily lives.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow celebrations as a huge mistake.

“Fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have very serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his channel on the messaging app. “The authorities should not celebrate when people are in mourning.”

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In a sign of a possible rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, said the retreat was caused by grave mistakes by the Russian military leadership.

“They made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said. “If they do not make changes in the strategy of conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will have to contact the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.”

Despite Ukraine’s gains, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and NATO chief warned on Friday that the war could drag on for months. Blinken said the conflict was entering a critical phase and urged the West to continue supporting Ukraine through what could be a harsh winter.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States and its NATO allies are working to make sure Ukrainian forces have “the things they desperately need right now.”

β€œAnd we are seeing Ukrainians with tremendous patriotism – but also after eight years of joint training with the US military, since 2014 with the invasion of Crimea – we are seeing the combined effect of collaborative training and timely resources at the moment, demonstrating that Vladimir Putin’s great decisions about What he might do in Ukraine is hollow and fail.”

β€”-

Associated Press columnist Ellen Nikmeyer contributed in Washington.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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