Ukraine continues to liberate territory in east and south, says Zelenskiy

<span>Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP</span>
Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

Ukraine has continued to liberate territory in the east and the south of the country, Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said, as Russian defence ministry maps appeared to show rapid withdrawals of its invasion forces.

The ministry’s daily video briefing made no mention of any pullbacks, but on maps used to show the location of purported Russian strikes, the shaded area designating Russian military control was smaller than the day before.

The maps included in Tuesday’s daily military briefing showed Russian forces were no longer in control of the village of Dudchany on the west bank of the Dnieper River, where Ukraine’s forces have been pushing to reclaim territory captured at the start of Moscow’s offensive.

In the north-eastern Kharkiv region, where Kyiv’s run of battlefield victories began in early September, Russian defence ministry maps showed that its forces had left positions on the west bank of the Oskil River.

Western officials said on Tuesday that Ukraine was dictating the operational tempo on the battlefield and they doubted whether Russia had the ambition or ability to return to the offensive.

“Ukrainian commanders in the south and the east are creating problems for the Russian chain of command faster than the Russians can effectively respond,” the officials said at a briefing.

They said they had seen no indications of any unusual activity surrounding Moscow’s nuclear arsenal since the latest nuclear threats were made by Vladimir Putin, pointing out that the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had slapped down the calls from the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to use such weapons, saying it was not right to resort to emotions.


Moscow and its propagandists have been left scrambling to explain why Russian forces are retreating from areas they “annexed” last week in a grandiose ceremony at the Kremlin, which was rejected by the international community.

Zelenskiy and Ukraine’s authorities have confirmed some limited, though unexpected advances on its southern Kherson frontline, which the Russians have been at pains to fortify because of Crimea, as well as the strategic railway town of Lyman, in the Donetsk region, on Saturday.

Kyiv has, however, been restrained in publicising advances, often confirming the recapture of settlements several days after Ukrainian soldiers share videos and pictures from a given location.

“There are new liberated settlements in several regions,” said Zelenskiy in his nightly address on Monday, without specifying where, and noting that fierce fighting was continuing.

Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Yevhen Enin, said on Tuesday that Ukraine’s forces had recaptured 50 towns and villages in Kherson, without specifying when.

Russian-installed authorities in Kherson have admitted Ukrainian forces are in control of several settlements located further south that Ukraine has not officially announced. If confirmed it would mean Ukraine has advanced 25 miles (40km) in a day.

“There is a settlement called Dudchany … it is in this area that there is a breakthrough and there are settlements taken by Ukrainian troops,” Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed head of Ukraine’s Kherson region, said on state television, according to Reuters.

Unverifiable maps of the frontline in Kherson region, shared by Russian nationalist military bloggers on Tuesday afternoon, also appeared to show that Ukraine had moved the battlelines even further.

Igor Konashenkov, a Russian defence ministry spokesperson, said Ukrainian forces had “driven a deep wedge” south of Zolota Balka, where the previous frontline sat.

Konashenkov said Russian troops had moved to a “pre-prepared defensive line”, in what appeared to be an admission that Ukraine’s southern counter-offensive is dramatically gaining pace, two months after it began.

“[Under] the threat of the physical encirclement of the Russian group from the villages of Dudchany and Davydiv Brid, a decision was made to withdraw the contingent of the Russian armed forces to a new line of defence,” wrote Rybar, a prominent Russian military blogger, on Tuesday afternoon. They also claimed Russian forces had withdrawn from six other settlements.

Ukraine’s leading newspaper, Ukrainska Pravda, said it had reviewed photos and videos confirming Ukrainian troops were in control of three of the villages. One soldier from the 35th separate marine brigade published a video raising a Ukrainian flag over what he said was Davydiv Brid.

Ukraine’s continued wins are devastating for Russia, which is still reeling from the almost total loss of Kharkiv region, half of which its forces successfully occupied in February. Ukrainian forces managed to recapture the area in a lightning, five-day offensive starting in early September.

After Putin’s address on Friday, the upper house of the parliament voted to approve the four regions’ incorporation into Russia. But the country does not completely control any of the new regions it has claimed. Peskov said on Monday that it would “continue to consult with the people who live in those regions” on the issue of Russia’s new self-proclaimed borders.

The head of the Russian propaganda network RT, Margerita Simonyan, argued on Russian TV that military command should be replaced.

“Cowardice, wilful abandonment of strategic positions without coordination with higher command, the collapse of command and control of the troops, inaction of power,” she said, listing the military’s failures.


Zelenskiy warned the Kremlin before Russia’s “annexation” of the four regions that doing so would make negotiations impossible. On Tuesday, Zelenskiy formalised his comments in a decree which states Ukraine will not negotiate with the current Russian president.

Ukraine’s intelligence says the country’s successes in the east and south is down to a mixture of tactics, western weapons and intelligence on Russian movements.

“The system of command was destroyed through our strikes; they didn’t know what to do,” Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence, said of Russia’s chaotic retreat in Kharkiv region. “Secondly, they were troops that had already fought on several fronts and they had been promised rotation … morale was low.”

Western officials said the town of Nova Kakhovka was “a critical challenge to the viability of the Russian troops in Kherson”. Nova Kakhovka is about 30 miles from where the most advanced Ukrainian troops have reached, according to Russian-installed officials.

The town has a major road bridge, power station and dam, as well as a canal taking fresh water to Crimea, so is seen by the western military officials as central to a nexus of communications.

“If you can control that, it allows you a much greater military advantage, putting areas of the Kherson and Crimea area at risk.”

Western officials highlighted the progress being made by Ukrainian forces in the south along the Dnieper, with the start of a potentially fatal pocket being created containing 20,000 trapped Russian troops stationed on the western side of the river.

But they warned that as Ukrainian forces pushed south along the river they could potentially be at risk from artillery fire by Russian forces from its eastern side and would be likely to face a battle as the Russians are politically unable to sanction a retreat.

“This won’t be an easy rush through unconstrained territory. We think it unlikely the Russian leadership would sanction a full pullout from Kherson for political reasons,” said the officials.