Ukraine pressures retreating Russian troops

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian troops have pressured retreating Russian forces Tuesday, pressing a counteroffensive that produced major gains and a blow to Moscow’s military prestige.

As the advance continued, Ukraine’s border guard service said the army had taken control of Vovchansk – a town just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Russia seized on the first day of the war. Russia has acknowledged that it has troops withdrawn areas of the northeastern region of Kharkiv in recent days.

It was not yet clear if the Ukrainian blitz, which unfolded after months of barely perceptible movement, could signal a turning point in the nearly seven-month war.

But the country’s officials were dynamic, releasing footage showing their forces burning Russian flags and inspecting abandoned, charred tanks. In one video, border guards tore down a poster that read, “We are one people with Russia.”

The momentum has already swung back and forth, and Ukraine’s U.S. allies were careful not to declare a premature victory since Russian President Vladimir Putin still has troops and resources to exploit.

In front of Russia’s biggest defeat since its failed attempt to seize Kyiv at the start of the war, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said troops were responding with “massive strikes” in all sectors. But there were no immediate reports of a sudden increase in Russian attacks.

Late Monday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his troops had so far recaptured more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) – an area more than twice the size of Luxembourg – in a matter of weeks.

“The movement of our troops continues,” he said.

Reports of chaos abounded as Russian troops retreated – along with claims they were surrendering en masse. The claims could not immediately be verified.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv was trying to persuade even more Russian soldiers to give up, launching shells full of leaflets ahead of their advance.

“The Russians are using you as cannon fodder. Your life means nothing to them. You don’t need this war. Surrender to the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the flyers read.

As dozens of towns and villages were liberated, authorities moved to several regions to investigate alleged atrocities committed against civilians by Russian troops.

The Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said four bodies with signs of torture were found in the village of Zaliznychne. It’s unclear how many other locations investigators entered.

Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the Ukrainian army general staff, accused Russian forces of committing hundreds of war crimes on territory they once held. He said the danger of minefields in liberated towns and villages remained high, and munitions and high explosives were strewn over 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles).

“The defense forces are taking steps to restore peaceful life to the liberated communities as soon as possible,” he said.

In an indication of the blow to Moscow, British intelligence said a leading force, the 1st Guards Tank Army, had been “badly degraded” during the invasion and that conventional Russian forces designed to counter NATO had been seriously weakened.

“It will probably take years for Russia to rebuild this capability,” the analysts said.

The retreat did not 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.

And Ukrainian officials said Russia was continuing to bomb Europe’s largest nuclear facility, where fighting has raised fears of a nuclear disaster. The Nikopol region, which is across the Dnieper from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled six times overnight, but no injuries were immediately reported, regional governor Valentyn said. Reznichenko.

Strikes also continued unabated in the city of Kharkiv, the second largest in Ukraine and the one that been hammered by artillery for months.

Zelenskyy specifically criticized Russia for targeting energy infrastructure in its attacks over the past few 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 infrastructures of the armed forces of our country.

He said the strikes 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.

Among apartment buildings scarred by the Battle of Kharkiv, a man who returned to feed the birds struck a defiant tone, saying a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive would likely lead to harsh Russian retaliation against civilian targets. But he said that would fail to intimidate ordinary Ukrainians.

Putin “doesn’t know what to do, and he will hit even harder here. Just on infrastructure,” said Serhii who only gave his first name. “He’s going to knock so that we don’t have any more water, electricity, to create even more chaos and to intimidate us. But he won’t succeed because we will survive, and Putin will soon be croaking!

The counter-offensive provoked rare public critique of Putin’s war. Meanwhile, some of its defenders in Russia have played down the idea that success belongs to Ukraine, instead blaming Western weapons and fighters for the losses.

“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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Arhirova reported from Kyiv.

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Follow AP War coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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