Russian forces are deserting two heavily fortified fronts in the east and the south of Ukraine as President Putin’s army buckles under mounting pressure.
Kyiv’s forces are advancing near the southern city of Kherson and reports from Russian sources say their troops are abandoning positions they have held since March, fearing they will be encircled.
In the northeast, Ukraine has consolidated a substantial area of territory east of the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast.
Ukrainian forces have broken through Russia’s defences
Ukrainian formations have advanced up to 20km (12.4 miles) beyond the river into Russia’s defensive zone towards the strategic supply town of Svatove, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
“It is highly likely that Ukraine can now strike the key Svatove-Kremina road with most of its artillery systems, further straining Russia’s ability to resupply its units in the east,” the defence ministry said in its latest update.
Western officials said Ukrainian commanders in both regions were “throwing problems at the Russian chain of command faster than the Russians can effectively respond”.
One official said the situation in the south was “rapidly evolving”, with Ukrainian forces gaining momentum on one of their three axes of assault. They are believed to be closing in on the port city of Nova Kakhovka, which officials said if retaken would pose a “critical challenge” to the viability of the Russian forces in Kherson.
Putin today signed laws absorbing four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson, into Russia, in a move that finalises the annexation carried out in defiance of international law.
Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions part of Russia. The formalities followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in the four regions that Ukraine and the West have rejected as a sham.
Ukrainian troops launched two operations in the east and south of the country last month in an attempt to confuse Russian forces.
In recent days they recaptured the strategically important town of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, just as Putin announced the annexation of swathes of sovereign Ukrainian territory.
According to western intelligence, as the Russian troops attempted to retreat they suffered high casualties from artillery fire. It is believed some of them were an Arctic-trained force and others were volunteer reservists. Yesterday heavy armoured vehicles were seen moving towards the eastern Donbas from the town.
Further south, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader in the Kherson region, admitted that Ukrainian forces had broken through enemy lines near Dudchany. The town by the Dnipro river is about 20 miles south of the previous front line.
Saldo said: “There are settlements that are occupied by Ukrainian forces.” Some reports suggested the town had been retaken.
Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for the Russian defence ministry, said “numerically superior” Ukrainian tanks had “driven a deep wedge” south of another village that marked the previous front line on the river.
As many as 25,000 Russian troops are on the west bank of the Dnipro. The western official said the situation could become “increasingly messy with potentially a more desperate Russian force with their backs to the river Dnipro”, adding: “Ukraine is dictating the operational tempo at the moment.”
Western military sources said more Russian commanders were likely to be sacked.
A war of words over Ukraine has intensified in recent days after President Putin suggested he would resort to nuclear weapons if Russia’s goals in Ukraine continued to be thwarted. James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, warned that the use of such weapons would “not go without response”.
In his evening address yesterday, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that dozens of villages across the Kherson, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk regions had been freed this week from Russian occupation.
He praised the Ukrainian army for its “fast and powerful advance” in the south citing the eight small towns in the Kherson region — Lyubymivka, Khreshchenivka, Zolota Balka, Bilyaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka, and Davydiv Brid — that have been recaptured in the counter-offensive.
“Dozens of settlements have already been liberated from the Russian sham referendum this week alone. Our warriors do not stop. And it’s only a matter of time before we oust the occupier from all our land,” he said.
“Our warriors do not stop. And it’s only a matter of time before we oust the occupier from all our land.”
Elsewhere, Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, greeted the defenders of the city of Mariupol as they were reunited with their families in Turkey following a prisoner swap which secured their release from Russian captivity.