Ukraine’s military said its troops crossed the strategic Oskil River and is preparing an assault on Russia’s occupation forces in the eastern Donbas – the region Moscow has promised to conquer.
Crossing the Oskil River is another important milestone in Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region. The river flows south into the Siversky Donets, which snakes through the Donbas, the main focus of Russia’s invasion.
Further beyond lies Luhansk province, the base for Russia’s separatist proxies since 2014 and fully in Russian hands since July after some of the war’s bloodiest battles.
“[Ukrainian troops] have pushed across the Oskil. From yesterday, Ukraine controls the east bank,” the Ukraine military wrote on Telegram on Monday.
Serhiy Serhiy Haidai, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, wrote on Telegram: “Luhansk region is right next door. De-occupation is not far away.”
Kremlin-backed authorities in the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk said on Monday an attack by Ukraine forces in the Russian-controlled city killed more than a dozen people.
The Russian military also said it went after Ukrainian forces in several front-line areas, claiming to have inflicted military casualties and damage to hardware.
The most recent Russian shelling killed at least eight civilians and wounded 22 others, Ukraine’s presidential office said on Monday.
Claims by both sides in the conflict could not be independently verified.
Going to plan?
Ukrainian forces swept through the Kharkiv region this month after bursting through the front line, sending thousands of Russian troops fleeing while abandoning their tanks and ammunition.
The Russian withdrawal marked the largest defeat for Moscow since it withdrew its forces from around the capital Kyiv after a botched attempt to capture the city in the invasion’s opening stage.
The setback has increased renewed discussion among Russian nationalist critics of the Kremlin who question why Moscow failed to plunge Ukraine into darkness at the outset of the invasion by hitting all of its main nuclear power plants.
Since its forces were driven out of Kharkiv, Russia has repeatedly fired at power plants, water infrastructure and other civilian facilities in what Ukraine says is retaliation for battlefield defeats. Moscow denies deliberately taking aim at civilians.
Russia’s rapid losses over the past few weeks have shaken a Kremlin public relations campaign that has never veered from the line that the “special military operation” is “going to plan”.
Officially Russia announced it was moving some troops out of the Kharkiv region to regroup elsewhere. But the losses are being openly acknowledged on state television by commentators calling for escalation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to continue his campaign against Ukraine, warning of a “more serious” military response to Ukraine’s “acts of terrorism”.
At a summit last week, Putin belittled the Ukrainian advance. “The Kyiv authorities announced they have launched and are conducting an active counteroffensive operation,” he said with a grin. “Well, let’s see how it ends up.”