KYIV, Ukraine — After being surrounded by Ukrainian forces, Russia withdrew its troops Saturday from an eastern Ukrainian city it had been using as a frontline operations center. It was the latest victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive that has humiliated and angered the Kremlin.
Russia’s withdrawal from Lyman complicates his internationally reviled statement just a day earlier that it had annexed four regions of Ukraine, an area that includes Lyman. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push further into land that Moscow now illegally claims as its own.
The fight comes at a crucial moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. In the face of Ukraine’s battlefield gains, which he frames as a US-orchestrated effort to destroy Russia, Putin this week stepped up threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive anti-Western rhetoric to date.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have inflicted damage on Ukrainian forces in the struggle to hold Lyman, but said the outnumbered Russian troops were withdrawn to more favorable positions. The Kyiv air force said it had moved to Lyman, and the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff posted photos of a Ukrainian flag being raised outside the city.
The city was an important logistics center for the Russians.
Lyman had been an important link on the Russian front for both ground communications and logistics. Located 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, it is in the Donetsk region, near the border with the Luhansk region, which Russia annexed on Friday after it took carried out a local “referendum” at gunpoint.
Ukrainian forces have retaken vast swaths of territory in a counteroffensive that began in September. They have pushed Russian forces out of the Kharkiv area and moved east across the Oskil River.
Lyman’s withdrawal from Moscow drew immediate criticism from some Russian officials.
Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, blamed the withdrawal, without evidence, on a general being “undercover by the top brass of the General Staff”. He called for “more drastic measures”.
Meanwhile, on the Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea, the governor of the city of Sevastopol announced an emergency situation at an airfield there. Beachgoers at the Russian-controlled resort could see explosions and huge billows of smoke from a distance. Authorities said a plane skidded off the runway at Belbek airfield and ammunition reportedly caught fire on board.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 in violation of international law.
Russian bombardment has intensified in recent days as Moscow moved quickly with its latest annexation and ordered a massive mobilization at home to bolster its forces. The Russian appeal has proven unpopular at home, prompting tens of thousands of Russian men to flee the country.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military have vowed to continue fighting to liberate regions Putin claimed to have annexed on Friday and other areas occupied by Russia.
Ukrainian official says civilians killed in Russian attack on convoy
Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of attacking two humanitarian convoys in recent days, killing dozens of civilians.
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Syniehubov said 24 civilians were killed in an attack this week on a convoy trying to flee the Kupiansk district. He called it “cruelty that cannot be justified.” He said 13 children and a pregnant woman were among the dead.
“The Russians fired on civilians at almost point-blank range,” Syniehubov wrote on Telegram.
The Security Service of Ukraine, the secret police force known by the acronym SBU, published photos of the attacked convoy. At least one truck appeared to have been blown up, with burned bodies in what was left of the truck bed. Another vehicle in front of the convoy had also caught fire. Bodies lay on the side of the road or even inside vehicles, which appeared to be riddled with bullet holes.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its rockets destroyed Ukrainian military targets in the area, but has not commented on allegations that they targeted fleeing civilians. Russian troops have withdrawn from much of the Kharkiv region but have continued to shell the area.
And a Russian attack on the capital of the Zaporizhzhia region killed 30 people and wounded 88, Ukrainian officials said. The British Defense Ministry said the Russians “almost certainly” attacked a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces, but gave no evidence.
In other developments, in an apparent attempt to secure Moscow’s control over the newly annexed territory, Russian forces on Friday captured the general director of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, according to the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom.
Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and took him to an undisclosed location.
Russia did not comment publicly on the report. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Russia told it that “the director general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily detained to answer questions.”
The Vienna-based IAEA said it “has been actively seeking clarification and looks forward to a speedy and satisfactory resolution of this matter.”
The power plant has repeatedly been caught in the crossfire of war. Ukrainian technicians continued to run it after Russian troops seized the power plant, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precaution amid continued shelling nearby.
In other reported clashes on Saturday, four people were killed in Russian shelling on Friday in the Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said. The Russian army attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv twice overnight, once with drones and the second with missiles, according to the regional governor. Vitaly Kim.
After Friday’s land grab, Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine, in what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called “the biggest attempt to annex European territory by force since World War II.” World War”.
Zelenskyy formally applied for NATO membership on Friday, increasing pressure on Western allies to defend Ukraine.
In Washington, President Joe Biden signed a bill Friday that provides another injection, more than $12.3 billion, in military and economic aid related to the war in Ukraine.