UKRAINE’S President Zelensky vowed to keep storming forward as his troops reached the edge of Russian-held Donbas in a stunning counter-attack.
The lionhearted leader swooped into the town of Izium – a former Russian stronghold – days after Putin’s troops fled in their worst defeat since the retreat from Kyiv.
He said: “We are moving in only one direction – forward and towards victory.”
Zelensky watched a symbolic flag-raising amid the rubble of the bomb-blitzed town and vowed: “Our blue-yellow flag is already flying in de-occupied Izyum.
“It will be so in every Ukrainian city and village.”
His latest morale-boosting trip is in contrast to cowardly Putin whose only known meeting with frontline troops was in the safety of a Moscow hospital.
Ukraine said it had liberated some 6,000 square kilometres – an area the size of Devon – with last week’s lightning assault that caught Russian troops by surprise.
British and US long-range weapons – including HIMARS and GMLRS rocket launchers – were key to the mission’s success, Ukraine said.
It comes amid reports Putin’s troops have begun abandoning another major city in the face of the lightning Ukrainian counter-strike.
Russian forces are said to be pulling out from Melitopol in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region and heading toward Moscow-annexed Crimea in a humiliating blow for Kremlin.
The city’s pre-occupation mayor Ivan Fedorov wrote on Telegram that columns of military equipment were reported at a checkpoint in Chonhar, a village marking the boundary between the Crimean peninsula and the Ukrainian mainland.
Melitopol, an area half the size of Wales, has been occupied since early March at the beginning of Putin’s war with Ukraine.
Capturing it would give Kyiv an opportunity to disrupt Russian supply lines between the south and the eastern Donbas region, the two major areas where Moscow-backed forces hold territory.
The scale of the Russian collapse in the northeastern province of Kharkiv surprised Ukraine’s commanders and sparked a furious backlash in Moscow – with calls for Putin to quit.
The Russian tyrant’s spokesman issued a chilling warning to critics to “stay within the law” as the outbursts of dissent risked “discrediting the army”.
Elected local officials in St Petersburg signed a petition urging Putin to resign while a pundit asked if the Army was “fit for combat” or betrayed.
US President Biden hailed “significant gains” but warned the that Ukraine still faced a “long haul”.
Russia had left its northern flank exposed to reinforce troops in southern Kherson where Ukraine launched an earlier push.
War crimes investigators said they had discovered six bodies which showed signs of possible torture in liberated Kharkiv
A resident of Balakliya, one of the first towns to be freed in the blitz, told the BBC he had been held for 40 days and electrocuted by Russian soldiers.
Zelensky compared the devastation to the horrors revealed in Bucha, north of Kyiv, where hundreds of residents were tortured, murdered and raped by occupying Russian forces in March.
It came as Russian puppet Andrey Marochko, a military commander of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, said the fighting had reached the border of the territory.
Serhiy Hayday, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, confirmed that clashes had reached the town of Lyman, some 30 miles south east of Izyum.
He predicted the town would be freed within days.
He said: “There are fierce battles in Lyman now, which I think will last a few more days,” he said.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine has been handing out “surrender cards” to Russian soldiers containing secret codes with advice on how they can return home alive, reports have claimed.
The cards feature a message in Russian for Vlad’s invading forces, as well as a QR code on the back with links to further information on how soldiers can surrender to Ukraine.
Pictures of the cards supposedly being distributed widely among Russian forces by Ukraine were shared on social media.
One side of the card is in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag.
The headline reads: “YOUR TICKET TO A PEACEFUL LIFE.”
Below, it says in Russian: “Show this card to a Ukrainian soldier – it will save your life and help you return home.”
It comes after a Russian spy with the codename “007” has been captured while passing secrets to Vlad’s forces in Ukraine.
The woman, dubbed the “Russian female Bond”, was detained by Ukraine’s secret service in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
She had pretended to be an aid volunteer in the country but instead was employed by Vlad’s special services at the start of the war in Ukraine.
The woman, from the Pologiv district in Zaporizhzhia, was tasked by the Kremlin with identifying the deployment of Ukrainian military units.
She was given the call sign “007” by her Russian “curator”, who also sent her instructions on carrying out reconnaissance and subversive activities in the region.
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