Russia’s withdrawal from the strategic eastern Ukrainian city of Lehman after being surrounded by Ukrainian troops – the latest victory in a counteroffensive in Kyiv, has humiliated and outraged Moscow.
Saturday’s announcement comes a day after President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions — including Donetsk, where Lehman is located — and put them under Russia’s nuclear umbrella, at the condemned ceremony Considered an illegal farce by Kyiv and the West.
“In order to create the threat of siege, the Allies retreated from the settlement of Krasniliman to a more favorable line of defense,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, using the city’s Russian name.
President Vladimir Zelensky later said in a video address that despite the Ukrainian flag flying in the city, “the battle continues”.
He also said Ukrainian troops had captured the village of Tosk, on the main road east of Lehman.
Russia’s statement ended hours of official silence after Ukraine first said it surrounded thousands of Russian troops in the region and then its troops were inside the city.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted that “almost all” Russian troops stationed in Lehman were either captured or killed.
Lehman is located 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the Donetsk region bordering Luhansk, which Russia annexed on Friday.
“The Russian group in the Lehman region is surrounded,” said Sergei Cherevati, a spokesman for the eastern Ukrainian forces.
Russia has used Lehman as a logistics and transportation hub for its operations in the northern Donetsk region.Its capture would be Ukraine’s biggest battlefield gain since then Counterattack in Northeast Kharkiv Region last month.
Ukraine’s recent success infuriated Putin allies like Ramzan Kadyrovthe leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, said he felt compelled to speak out.
“In my personal opinion, tougher measures should be taken until the declaration of martial law and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons in border areas,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.
Other top Putin allies, including ex-President Dmitry Medvedev, hint that Russia may need resort to nuclear weaponsbut Kadyrov’s call was the most urgent and clear.
Putin said last week that he was not bluffing when he said he was ready to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity” with all available means, and made clear on Friday that this extended to new areas that Moscow claims.
Washington says it will respond decisive any use of nuclear weapons and made clear to Moscow the “catastrophic consequences” it would face.
“Psychologically very important”
A video released by the president’s chief of staff showed two Ukrainian soldiers sticking the yellow-and-blue flag to the Lehman welcome sign at the city’s entrance.
“October 1. We are unfolding our state flag and building it on our land. Lehman will be Ukraine,” said one of the soldiers.
Ukraine said taking control of Leman would allow Kyiv to advance into the Luhansk region, which Moscow announced in early July after weeks of advance.
“Lyman is important because it is the next step in the liberation of Ukraine’s Donbass. It is an opportunity to go further into Kremina and Severo-Donetsk, which is very important psychologically,” Cherevatyi said.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the wider Donbas region, which has been Russia’s main focus since shortly after Moscow began its invasion on February 24, a so-called “special military operation” Aims to demilitarize its neighbors.
Putin on Friday declared the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporozhye, as Russian soil — territory equivalent to 18 percent of Ukraine’s total land mass.
Ukraine and its Western allies have called Russia’s move illegal. Kyiv has pledged to continue liberating its land from Russian troops and has said there will be no peace talks with Moscow under Putin’s presidency.
Meanwhile, on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula, the governor of the city of Sevastopol declared an emergency at an airport there. Beachgoers can see explosions and huge plumes of smoke at the Russian-controlled resort. Authorities said a plane skidded off the runway at Belbek Airport with ammunition on board.
Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian army Targeting two humanitarian convoys Over the past few days, dozens of civilians have been killed.
In other developments, to ensure Moscow’s control of the newly annexed territory, Russian troops caught the director general Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant Ihor Murashov.