Zelenskiy hails liberation of 6,000 sq km of land as Russian troops withdraw

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Ukrainian troops continued to pressure the retreating Russian forces, seeking to maintain their sudden momentum which produced major territorial gains.

New yellow and blue flags waved from the tallest buildings left in partially destroyed towns around Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, as Ukrainian soldiers inspected charred Russian tanks left along the way.

“From the beginning of September until today, our soldiers have already liberated more than 6,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory, in the east and in the south. The movement of our troops continues,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address Monday evening.

Many claims of military success could not be independently verified.

Many Russian soldiers were taken prisoner, Ukrainian officials said (Kostiantyn Liberov/AP)

Rubbing salt in Russia’s wounds, British intelligence said one of Moscow’s main forces, the 1st Guards Tank Army, was “badly degraded” during the invasion and that ” the Russian conventional force designed to counter NATO is severely weakened.”

They added: “It will probably take years for Russia to rebuild this capability.”

The retreat did not, however, prevent Russia from hammering Ukrainian positions. Early on Tuesday, it shelled the town of Lozova in the Kharkiv region, killing three people and injuring nine, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said.

The Nikopol area, which is across the Dnieper from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled six times overnight but no immediate injuries were reported, the governor said regional Valentin Reznichenko.

Continued bombing has left Europe’s largest nuclear facility in a precarious position.

Mr Zelenskiy specifically criticized Russia for targeting energy infrastructure in its attacks in recent days.

“Hundreds and thousands of Ukrainians found themselves in the dark, without electricity. Houses, hospitals, schools, communal infrastructures… sites that have absolutely nothing to do with the infrastructure of the armed forces of our country.

He said that could only indicate one thing. “This is a sign of the desperation of those who organized this war. This is how they react to the defeat of the Russian forces in the Kharkiv region. They cannot do anything to our heroes on the battlefield” , did he declare.

Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian troops were surrendering en masse. A Ukrainian presidential adviser said there were so many prisoners of war that the country lacked space to accommodate them.

The counteroffensive has left the Kremlin struggling for an answer to its biggest military defeat in Ukraine since Russian forces withdrew from areas near Kyiv after a failed attempt to capture the capital at the start of the invasion.

The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged the setback on a map that showed its troops pushed back along a narrow strip of land on the border with Russia – a tacit admission of big Ukrainian gains.

It was not yet clear whether the Ukrainian blitz could mark a turning point in the war. Momentum has changed back and forth before, but rarely with such a large and sudden swing.

Some in Russia blamed Western weapons and fighters for the losses.

Some in Russia blamed Western weapons and fighters for the losses (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

“It was not Ukraine that attacked Izium, but NATO,” read a headline in the state-backed Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, referring to one of the areas where Russia said withdraw his troops.

Elsewhere, residents of a Russian village just across the border with Ukraine were evacuated after shelling by Ukrainian troops killed one person, according to Russian news agency Tass.

The report quoted the head of the local administration of Logachevka as saying that Ukrainian troops opened fire at a border checkpoint.

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