Ukrainian forces outnumbered Russian troops by eight times during the rapid Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, a Russian-installed official said.
Vitaly Ganchev said Ukrainian soldiers captured previously Russian-held settlements in the region’s north, breaking through to the border with Russia, and “about 5,000” civilians had been evacuated to Russia.
Ganchev told the state-owned Rossiya-24 television channel on Monday “the situation is becoming more difficult by the hour”, adding the border with Russia’s Belgorod region was now closed.
During the weekend, Ukrainian forces overran the key Russian supply hubs of Izyum and Kupiansk, where the Kharkiv region’s Russian-appointed administration had been based.
On Sunday, Russia’s defence ministry published a map showing Russian forces had almost entirely abandoned the Kharkiv region.
Russia insisted on Monday that it would achieve its military goals in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to answer directly when asked by a reporter if President Vladimir Putin had confidence in his military leadership.
“The military operation continues and it will continue until the goals that were originally set are achieved. Of course any actions of the military that they perform as part of the special operation are reported to the Supreme Commander,” Peskov said, referring to Putin.
‘Russia can be defeated’
Ukraine kept the counteroffensive momentum in its war against Russia going on Monday.
“In some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border with the Russian Federation,” said the regional governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyehubov. Russian troops crossed the border in the region on February 24, the first day of the invasion.
The Ukrainian military said troops got back more than 20 settlements within the last day.
Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Financial Times newspaper that Ukraine needed to secure retaken territory against a possible Russian counterattack on stretched Ukrainian supply lines. But he said the offensive had gone far better than expected, describing it as a “snowball rolling down a hill”.
“It’s a sign that Russia can be defeated,” he said.
The sudden turn of events was backed up by international observers who warned of dire times ahead for Russian troops. It stood in sharp contrast to the first days of the war when Russian soldiers were moving towards Kyiv’s doorstep.
‘Routing Russian forces’
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Monday that Russia likely lacks the reserve forces it needs to bolster its defences in Ukraine.
While the war likely will stretch into next year, ISW said, “Ukraine has turned the tide of this war in its favour” by effectively using Western-supplied weapons such as the long-range HIMARS missile system and strong battlefield tactics.
“The Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast is routing Russian forces and collapsing Russia’s northern Donbas axis. Russian forces are not conducting a controlled withdrawal and are hurriedly fleeing southeastern Kharkiv Oblast to escape encirclement around Izyum,” the US think-tank said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that Russia was not against negotiations regarding Ukraine but the longer they took, “the more difficult it is going to be to agree on anything”.
Seeking to contain its loss of momentum, Russia fired missiles at power plants and other critical infrastructure, immediately meeting with Ukrainian and US criticism.
“Ukraine and the civilized world can clearly see that these are acts of terrorists,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light and heat.”
Russian strikes again cut off power and water supplies to Kharkiv, the mayor of Ukraine’s second largest city said on Monday.
“Last night’s situation is being repeated. Due to the [Russian] strikes … power and water supplies have halted,” said Ihor Terekhov.