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Russian Forces Retreat Amid Ukrainian Counteroffensive

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Ukrainian troops on Sunday successfully pressed their swift counteroffensive in the northeastern section of the country, even while a nuclear power plant in the Russia-occupied south completely turn off in a bid to avoid a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.

But Russia struck back at Ukraines infrastructure Sunday night, causing widespread blackouts, with the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions the type of without power, officials said.

Kyivs action to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to avoid them from being surrounded, abandoning significant amounts of weapons and munitions in a hasty retreat as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mocked the Russians in a video address Saturday night, saying the Russian army nowadays is demonstrating the very best that it could do showing its back.

He posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the national flag over Chkalovske, another town reclaimed in the counteroffensive.

Yuriy Kochevenko, of the 95th brigade of the MILITARY of Ukraine, tweeted a video from what were the town center of Izyum. The town was considered a significant command and offer hub for Russias northern front.

Everything around is destroyed, but we shall restore everything. Izyum was, is, and you will be Ukraine, Kochevenko said in his video, showing the empty central square and destroyed buildings.

Some attention centered on the counteroffensive, Ukraines nuclear energy operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europes largest, was reconnected to Ukraines electricity grid, allowing engineers to turn off its last operational reactor to guard it amid the fighting.

The plant, among the 10 biggest atomic power stations on the planet, has been occupied by Russian forces because the start of the war. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for shelling around it.

Since a Sept. 5 fire due to shelling knocked the plant off transmission lines, the reactor was powering crucial safety equipment in so-called island mode an unreliable regime that left the plant increasingly susceptible to a potential nuclear accident.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog which has two experts at the website, welcomed the restoration of external power. But IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said he could be gravely worried about the problem at the plant, which remains in peril so long as any shelling continues.

He said talks have begun on establishing a security and safety zone around it.

In a call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the withdrawal of Russian troops and weaponry from the plant consistent with IAEA recommendations.

In fighting, Ukraines military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyy, said its forces had recaptured about 3,000 square kilometers (1,160 square miles) because the counteroffensive began in early September. He said Ukrainian troops are just 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) from the Russian border.

One battalion shared a video of Ukrainian forces before a municipal building in Hoptivka, a village just over a mile from the border and about 19 kilometers (12 miles) north of Kharkiv.

Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control greater than 40 settlements in your community.

Widespread power outages were reported Sunday night by Ukrainian media, with the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions completely blacked out, while Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Sumy partially lost power, Zelenskyy said.

Russian terrorists remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, only the purpose of leaving people without light and heat, he tweeted.

Ukrainian officials said Russia hit Kharkiv TEC-5, the countrys second-biggest heat and power plant.

Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov called the energy outage revenge by the Russian aggressor for the successes of our army at the front end, specifically, in the Kharkiv region.

Later at night some power have been restored. None of the outages were thought to be linked to the shutdown of the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces had left several settlements in the Kherson region as Ukrainian forces pressed the counteroffensive. It didn’t identify them.

The official with the Russian-backed administration in the town of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said on social media marketing that the town was safe and asked everyone to remain calm.

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of an armored vehicle on a road in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of an armored vehicle on a road in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)

Leo Correa via AP

The Russian pullback marked the largest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces given that they thwarted a Russian try to seize Kyiv close to the start of war. The Kharkiv campaign came as a surprise for Moscow, which had relocated a lot of its troops from the spot south in expectation of a counteroffensive there.

In attempting to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday the withdrawal from Izyum along with other areas was designed to strengthen Moscows forces in the neighboring Donetsk region south. The reason was much like how Russia justified pulling back from Kyiv earlier this season.

Igor Strelkov, who led Russia-backed forces once the separatist conflict in the Donbas erupted in 2014, mocked the Russian Defense Ministrys explanation of the retreat, suggesting that handing over Russias own territory close to the border was a contribution to a Ukrainian settlement.

The retreat angered Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who bemoaned it as a significant defeat and urged the Kremlin to intensify its war efforts. Many criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks along with other lavish festivities in Moscow that marked a city holiday on Saturday regardless of the debacle in Ukraine.

Putin attended the opening of an enormous Ferris wheel in a Moscow park on Saturday, and inaugurated a fresh transport link and a sports arena. The action underlined the Kremlins narrative that the war it calls a particular military operation was going in accordance with plan without affecting Russians everyday lives.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow festivities as a grave mistake.

The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russias military defeat could have extremely serious political consequences, Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. Authorities mustnt celebrate when folks are mourning.

In an indicator of a potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, said the retreat resulted from blunders by the Russian brass.

They will have made mistakes and I believe they’ll draw the required conclusions, Kadyrov said. Should they dont make changes in the strategy of conducting the special military operation within the next day or two, I am forced to get hold of the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the leadership of the united states to explain the true situation on the floor.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the top of NATO cautioned Friday the war may likely continue for months, urging the West to help keep supporting Ukraine through what is actually a difficult winter.

Ukraines battlefield gains would help because the Biden administration seeks continued financial support of the war effort from Congress and Western allies, said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and today a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

The Biden administration policy is evolving in a direction that’s a growing number of justified, Fried said. More investment in Ukraine, more confidence in Ukrainian capability to prevail, a larger willingness to push the Russians that appears like an excellent bet. Im not saying Ukraine will probably win or that the West will succeed. Its still an open question. However the investment in the chance of strategic success is increasingly more justified.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and person in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Ukraines advances very encouraging, adding: We and our allies must keep standing with Ukraine. Putin must recognize that the only method out would be to end his failed war.

Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed.

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