A decisive advance by Ukrainian forces liberated 2,500 km of Russian-occupied territory

Ukraine reconquers the key city of Balakliia. This Twitter image shows the soldiers who raised the blue and yellow flag while trampling the Russian ensign.

Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-appointed administrative head of the Kharkiv region in the occupied northeast of Ukraine, boasted of repelling an attack by Ukrainian forces and inflicting heavy losses on it. The key city of Balakliia, he told Russian state television, “It’s under our control.”

Ganchev’s euphoria was short-lived. On Saturday morning, several videos posted on social networks showed Ukrainian troops passing through what Ganchev had earlier claimed was Russian-occupied territory. In one of the videos, Ukrainian soldiers were seen raising a light blue and yellow flag over the city of Balakliia. Another showed the neighbors celebrating and receiving the liberating soldiers with kisses and homemade cakes.

And it’s not just Balakliia but a few hours later the Ukrainians were already at the gates of the key city of Izium and the rest of the Kharkiv region where the counteroffensive launched this week is putting the Russian occupation troops to flight. In social networks you can see videos of the routes collapsed by the pro-Russians fleeing towards the border. Finally, the Russian Ministry of Defense had to admit the bad experience and announced that it is withdrawing the forces from the cities of Izyum and Balakliya to regroup them in the Donetsk region. A similar justification was given by the Kremlin for withdrawing its forces from the kyiv region earlier this year after failing to take the Ukrainian capital.

Ukrainian Offensive in the East MAP Infographic

Satellite photos show the movement of Ukrainian convoys moving rapidly east towards Kupiansk. The capture of that small town could threaten Russian supply lines to Izium. Meanwhile, dozens of videos of Balakliiya’s release appeared on Telegram and Twitter. In one you can see a peasant crying in surprise when she sees a Ukrainian soldier pass in front of her house. And in another, a group of neighbors with blue and yellow flags trying to stop the car in which some collaborators were escaping. “We have found a weak point in which the enemy was not prepared”, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video posted on YouTube.

Still, the situation is fluid, and further Ukrainian advances may be contested as Russia stabilizes its response. The counteroffensive in the east came in parallel to an offensive in the south that had been in the works for months, around the regional capital of Kherson. Russia was forced to redeploy troops to bolster its defenses in this area, leaving its remaining forces in the east more spread out and facilitating the Ukrainian advance. Vladimir Putin’s forces suffer from the syndrome of the short blanket, as soon as they neglect one flank, they attack them from another. They don’t have enough men to conquer and occupy at the same time.

This progress on the eastern front comes on top of a slower and more limited advance in the south, around Kherson, and marks a substantial change in the relationship of forces on the front before the harsh winter arrives in the region. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the Washington-based think tank, estimated in its latest report that Ukraine had recaptured more than 2,500 square kilometers in its drive to the northeast. He added that it appeared that “disorganized Russian forces were caught up in the rapid Ukrainian advance.” President Zelensky, on Friday, had said that his troops had already reconquered more than a million square kilometers.

Ukrainian Offensive in the East MAP Infographic

The speed of the advance took even Ukrainian officials by surprise. Foreign ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko suggested that Ukrainian troops had retaken Kupiansk, a town along the main supply route to Izyum, long a focus on the Russian front line and the center of heavy artillery combat. Nikolenko tweeted a photo showing soldiers from Ukraine’s 92nd Separate Mechanized Battalion in front of what he said was a government building in Kupiansk, 73 kilometers north of Izium. But at that very moment the troops were already at the gates of Izium and the soldiers uploaded photos to the networks showing the control abandoned by the Russians in front of the monument with the name of the city.

Meanwhile, dozens of videos of the liberation of towns and cities appeared on Telegram and Twitter. In one, a peasant woman can be seen crying in surprise when she sees a Ukrainian soldier pass in front of her house in Balakliiya. And in another, a group of neighbors with blue and yellow flags trying to stop the car in which some collaborators were escaping. “We have found a weak point in which the enemy was not prepared”, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video posted on YouTube.

Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov, a representative of the Ukrainian General Staff, corroborated this information, telling a briefing on Friday that Ukrainian troops had advanced 50 kilometers into the territory previously occupied by Russia near Kharkiv. The Twitter account of the so-called “Ukrainian War Map” gave a list of several towns near Kharkiv that had been liberated by the Ukrainian army after six months in Russian hands: Semenivka, Volokhiv Yar, Vovchyi Yar and Kalynivka. “The counteroffensive can definitely change the war in favor of Ukraine,” wrote.

The head of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, also confirmed that Ukraine had made tangible progress in recent days, but tried to temper expectations of what is likely to remain a bloody campaign. “There is fighting – both offensive and defensive – from Kharkiv to Kherson. It is still a very fluid situation. You have to be careful.” said.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the US think tank, said in its assessment of the campaign on Friday that Ukrainian forces were already less than 20 kilometers from Russia’s “key logistics hub” in Kupyansk. “Ukrainian forces are likely to capture Kupyansk in the next few hours, severely degrading, but not completely severing, the Russian land lines of communication (GLOC) to Izium,” the ISW added.

The kyiv government imposed extensive restrictions on information about its military offensive, making independent verification of claims difficult. But the accounts of witnesses, local Ukrainian authorities, Russian officials by proxy, geolocated videos on social networks and satellite images offer a window into Ukrainian operations that are being carried out on multiple fronts.

The Russian military command in Moscow reported on Friday that it is sending reinforcements, deploying the newly formed 3rd Army Corps – made up of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers – to the eastern front. Putin seems to be convinced that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has no chance of changing the course of the war and that the arrival of winter will be favorable for his invasion plans. In a rare public talk this week, William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, assured that according to his information Putin is counting on Western resolve to weaken as winter approaches and heating bills soar. Moscow seeks to exploit Europe‘s dependence on its natural gas and energy to cause economic pressure that will cause many of Ukraine’s now allies to cease to be so. “I believe, and my CIA colleagues believe, that Putin is as wrong in that gamble as he was in his assumptions going back to last February about the Ukrainian will to resist,” Burns assured.

Meanwhile, global concern over the possibility of a nuclear disaster remains focused on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The IAEA, the United Nations agency for nuclear control, reported new bombardments near the city of Enerhodar, where the personnel who operate the plant live, had destroyed the electrical infrastructure and that this poses a threat to the normal development of operations and the crucial cooling of the reactors. The plant’s external power lines, vital to prevent a possible nuclear meltdown, have already been cut. “It is an unsustainable and increasingly precarious situation. Enerhodar has gone dark. The plant has no external power. And we have seen that once the infrastructure is repaired, it is damaged again.”, reported the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Argentine Rafael Grossi.

For now, the Ukrainian troops cannot liberate the area around the plant. The Russians hide their missile launchers under nuclear reactors.


The Ukrainian Army recaptured the key town of Kupiansk and advances towards Izium

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