Kremlin nightmare as Ukraine’s Luhansk liberation begins in east

Russia: 15,000 troops ‘could surrender’ says expert

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Ukraine’s armed forces have begun liberating the eastern areas of Luhansk from Russia, just days after Vladimir Putin annexed the region. Unconfirmed social media footage showed Zelensky’s troops forces raising a flag in Hrekivka, as Luhansk’s top official hailed the Kyiv-led counter attack.

Writing on Telegram, Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk Regional Military–Civil Administration, said: “The de-occupation of Luhansk region has begun.

“Several settlements have already been liberated from the Russian army, and the armed forces of Ukraine there are already raising the Ukrainian flag.”

However, Mr Haidai did not reveal the names of any liberated territories in the post.

Reports said the liberation of Luhansk means Moscow now has no full control over any of the four territories annexed by Putin.

Mr Haidai told the BBC that troops have reclaimed six villages in Luhansk since Tuesday. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky said just hours before Mr Haidai’s post that Ukrainian forces were pushing forward quickly against Russian troops in a bid to reclaim territory around Kherson in the south.

Kyiv has already taken back significant ground along the western bank of the Dnieper river in the region of Kherson, which was occupied by Russia early in February.

In an address to Ukraine, Mr Zelensky said: “The Ukrainian army is carrying out a pretty fast and powerful advance in the south of our country.”

The UK’s Ministry of Defence also said on Wednesday that Ukraine “continues to make progress in offensive operations along both the north-eastern and southern fronts”.

It said in a daily intelligence briefing: “In the north-east, in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine has now consolidated a substantial area of territory east of the Oskil River.

“Ukrainian formations have advanced up to 20 km beyond the river into Russia’s defensive zone towards the supply node of the town of Svatove.

“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.

“Politically, Russian leaders will highly likely be concerned that leading Ukrainian units are now approaching the borders of Luhansk Oblast, which Russia claimed to have formally annexed last Friday.”

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Meanwhile, Putin said he expects the situation to “stabilise” in annexed Ukrainian regions.

He told Russian teachers during a televised video call: “We are working on the assumption that the situation in the new territories will stabilise.”

Kirill Stremousov, the Moscow-appointed deputy head of Kherson region, told the RIA Novosti news agency: “We are regrouping [our forces] along the front, which means that we can gather strength and strike back.”

However, he also said it was “impossible” for Russian troops to enter Kherson city.

A Russian war reporter for state TV, Roman Saponkov, wrote on Telegram: “Friends, I know you’re waiting for me to comment on the situation. 

“But I really don’t know what to say to you. The retreat from the north on the right bank is a disaster.”

According to Jack Watling, a senior analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, Russian troops around Kherson have retreated to their second line of defence to shorten their frontline.

He told the Guardian: “There’s no evidence of surrender or collapse [of Russian forces] … like we saw in Kharkiv region.”

Mr Watling noted the political importance for Russia of holding on to Kherson, the only regional centre it has managed to acquire since February, but added if Ukraine’s forces manage to break through Russia’s second line of defence, they will be able to cut the Russian supply lines with a wider range of cheaper artillery and trap them on the western bank.

He said: “At the moment, the bridges are being hit by Himars [rockets], which are scarce and very expensive … [if they advance further] they can afford to open up against more incidental targets.”

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