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Russia Announces Troop Pullback From Ukraines Kharkiv Area

KYIV, Ukraine Russias Defense Ministry announced Saturday that it’s pulling back troops from two areas in Ukraines eastern Kharkiv region in which a Ukrainian counteroffensive has made significant advances during the past week.

The news headlines came after days of apparent advances by Ukraine south of Kharkiv, the countrys second-largest city, in what could end up being the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces given that they thwarted a Russian try to seize the administrative centre of Kyiv in the beginning of the nearly seven-month war.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Saturday that troops will be regrouped from the Balakliya and Izyum areas to Ukraines tern Donetsk region. Izyum was a significant base for Russian forces in the Kharkiv region and earlier this week social media marketing videos showed residents of Balakliya joyfully cheering as Ukrainian troops moved in.

Konashenkov said the Russian move has been manufactured in order to attain the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate Donbas, among the eastern Ukraine regions that Russia has declared sovereign.

The claim of pullback to focus on Donetsk is similiar to the justification Russia gave for pulling back its forces from the Kyiv region earlier this season when they didn’t take the Ukrainian capital.

Ukrainian officials earlier Saturday claimed major gains in a counteroffensive against Russian forces in the Kharkiv region, saying Ukrainian troops had take off vital supplies to Izyum.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko also suggested the Ukrainian troops had retaken Kupiansk, a town across the main supply path to Izyum, long a concentrate on the Russian front line and the website of heavy artillery along with other fighting. Nikolenko tweeted an image showing soldiers before what he said was a government building in Kupiansk, 73 kilometers (45 miles) north of Izyum.

The Ukrainian Security Service of Ukraine hours later posted a note which it said showed its forces in Kupiansk, further suggesting it turned out seized by Ukrainian troops. The Ukrainian military didnt immediately confirm entering the city, a railway hub that Russia seized in February.

Videos on social media marketing seemed to show Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Izyum at a roadside checkpoint. A big statue with the citys name could possibly be observed in the footage. Ukrainian forces didn’t acknowledge holding the town.

Earlier Saturday, the British Defense Ministry told reporters it believed the Ukrainians had advanced just as much as 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kharkiv, and described Russian forces around Izyum as increasingly isolated.

Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns, the British military said, adding that the increased loss of Kupiansk would greatly affect Russian supply lines.

The Institute for the analysis of War, a Washington-based think tank, likewise referenced sweeping Ukrainian gains, estimating that Kyiv has seized around 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles) in its eastern breakthrough. The institute said it appeared that disorganized Russian forces (were) caught in the rapid Ukrainian advance. They cited social media marketing images of apparent Russian prisoners seized in the advance around Izyum and surrounding towns.

Exactly the same report said Ukrainian forces may collapse Russian positions around Izyum should they sever Russian ground lines of communication north and south of the city.

Vladislav Sokolov, head of the Russian-appointed local administration, said on social media marketing that authorities in Izyum have started evacuating residents to Russia.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine comes amid a continuing offensive around Kherson in the south. Analysts suggest Russia could have taken soldiers from the east to bolster around Kherson, offering the Ukrainians the chance to strike a weakened front line.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the tv screen channel Ukraina that the Russians had no food or fuel for his or her troops in your community as Kyiv had take off their supply lines.

It’ll be as an avalanche, he said, predicting a Russian fallback. One type of defense will shake and it’ll fall.

The Ukrainian military was more circumspect concerning the reported gains, claiming Saturday to possess taken a lot more than 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) from pro-Kremlin forces this week. It said in a few areas, units of the Defense Forces have penetrated the enemys defenses to a depth of 50 kilometers, matching the British assessment, but didn’t disclose geographical details.

Officials in Kyiv have for weeks been tight-lipped about plans for a counteroffensive to retake territory overrun by Russia early in the war, urging residents to avoid sharing info on social media marketing.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that Ukrainian troops had reclaimed a lot more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region because the start of counteroffensive.

We have been gradually taking control over more settlements, returning the Ukrainian flag and protection for the people, Zelenskyy said.

He spoke following the Ukrainian governor of Kharkiv reported that the national flag have been raised over Balakliia, a town recaptured by Ukrainian troops on Thursday following half a year of Russian occupation.

Balakliia is Ukraine! Today, alongside the military, led by the commander of the bottom Forces Oleksandr Syrskyy, we raised the Ukrainian flag, governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on Telegram.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian emergency services reported a 62-year-old woman was killed in a Russian missile strike in the Kharkiv region when her home was flattened overnight.

Syniehubov also accused Moscow of pummeling settlements retaken by Kyiv. He said in a Telegram post that five civilians were hospitalized in the Izyum district, while nine others suffered injuries elsewhere in your community.

In the embattled Donbas region south of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian governor said civilians were killed and wounded overnight by Russian shelling close to the city of Bakhmut, an integral target of the stalled Russian offensive there. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram that two different people died and two more suffered injuries in Bakhmut and the neighboring village of Yahidne.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock found its way to Kyiv on an unannounced visit Saturday, saying that Europe wouldn’t normally tire of helping Ukraine despite Russian President Vladimir Putins efforts to improve the pressure by withholding energy supplies from EU nations.

Baerbock said Germany will help Ukraine to find and removing mines along with other unexploded ordnance left by Russian troops in areas where they are pushed back by Ukrainian forces.

Regardless of the gains created by Ukraines military, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the top of NATO warned Friday that Ukraines fight Russia appears set to drag on for months. Blinken said the war was entering a crucial period and urged Ukraines Western backers to maintain their support through what is actually a difficult winter.

E mail us at letters@time.com.

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