Russian troops are panicking as Ukraine pushes further into occupied territory following the rout near Kharkiv, Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
The Ukrainian president, speaking overnight, said speed is now key to driving Russia back – urging allies to step up the pace of weapons deliveries while boasting that ‘we are now confident the occupiers will have no foothold on Ukrainian soil.’
It came as his troops marched into the town of Bilohorivka, returning to Luhansk province just two months after Russia took full control of it. Governor Serhiy Gaidai said the army is now preparing to take back the whole region.
Meanwhile Liz Truss, traveling to a UN summit in New York, committed Britain to spending at least £2.3billion supporting Ukraine in 2023 – matching or exceeding the level of support given this year.
Ukrainian troops have advanced into Bilohorivka, recapturing their first town in Luhansk province as the governor says they are preparing to re-take the entire province
Kyiv’s men are continuing to advance following the rout of Russian forces near Kharkiv, as Zelensky says they are ‘panicking’
Ukrainian troops ride on top of an armoured personnel carrier through the newly-liberated city of Izyum, in the east of Ukraine
After the United States, the United Kingdom has been one of the biggest contributors of military and civilian aid to Ukraine.
Any new package of support is likely to including multiple-launch rocket systems of the kind Ukraine has been using to carry out precision strikes on Russian command posts, ammo dumps, and supply lines.
Russia is currently on the back foot in Ukraine, having suffered a humiliating rout to the east of the city of Kharkiv last month that returned more than 3,000 square miles of previously occupied territory to Ukrainian control.
Donbas leader urges Russia referendum
The head of a breakaway region of Ukraine has called for a referendum on becoming part of Russia.
Denis Pushilin, leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said that steps should be taken to prepare for a vote on the issue.
He made the call in a phone conversation with Leonid Pasechnik – head of the neighbouring Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) – video of which was posted online.
Pushilin claimed holding the referendum would be ‘a reflection of the opinion of our people’ which he said had been settled ‘for a long time’.
Though the DPR and LPR are under defacto Kremlin control, they are currently considered by Putin to be independent nations.
The territories are not recognised by any major world body.
There is also no evidence to suggest a majority of people in the regions – who are being conscripted by Russia and sent to fight as ‘cannon fodder’ – would welcome joining the mainland.
Putin held a similar sham referendum in Crimea in 2014 before annexing it.
Putin’s commanders are now trying to reinforce and push the Ukrainians back, while Zelensky’s men hold the new line, probe defences, and advance where possible.
Summing up the situation overnight, Zelensky said: ‘We are stabilising the situation, holding our positions. Firmly. So firmly that the occupiers are panicking tangibly.
‘We warned the Russian soldiers in Ukraine that they have only two options: Flee our land or surrender…
‘Thanks to the Security Service of Ukraine, we are now confident that the occupiers will not have any foothold on Ukrainian soil.’
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the occupied Luhansk region, said soldiers had pushed into the village of Bilohorivka – the first in Luhansk to be recaptured.
It will provide the jumping-off point for an assault on the wider region with the aim of returning it to Ukrainian control, he added.
However, he warned that Russia is preparing its defences and ‘we will not simply march in’ – seeking to dampen anticipation of another Kharkiv-style rapid advance.
Ukraine is also attacking towards the south, in Kherson, where its forces sank a Russian pontoon bridge transporting weapons and troops across the Dnipro River on Monday.
‘The situation remains tense, but under our control,’ a spokesman for Ukraine’s southern command said.
Luhansk and the neighbouring province of Donetsk comprise the industrialised eastern region of Donbas, which Moscow says it intends to seize as a primary aim of what it calls the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
Ukrainian troops have begun to push into Luhansk since driving Russian forces out of northeastern Kharkiv province in a lightning counter-offensive this month.
In a sign of nervousness from a Moscow-backed administration in Donbas about the success of Ukraine’s recent offensive, its leader called for urgent referendums on the region becoming part of Russia.
Denis Pushilin, head of the Moscow-based separatist administration in Donetsk, called on his fellow separatist leader in Luhansk to combine efforts toward preparing a referendum on joining Russia.
The Ukraine general staff said on Monday that fighting had been limited to the Donetsk region.
‘During the past 24 hours, units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine repelled enemy attacks in the areas of Mayorsk, Vesele, Kurdyumivka and Novomykhailivka settlements,’ it said in a daily update.
Liz Truss will make her debut speech at the UN today, where she will promise to at least match the £2.3billion in support that the UK gave to Ukraine this year in 2023
In the south, where another Ukrainian counter-offensive has been making slower progress, Ukraine’s armed forces said they had sunk a barge carrying Russian troops and equipment across a river near Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region.
‘Attempts to build a crossing failed to withstand fire from Ukrainian forces and were halted. The barge … became an addition to the occupiers’ submarine force,’ the military said in a statement on Facebook.
Ukraine is still assessing what took place in areas that were under Russian control for months before a rout of Russian troops dramatically changed the dynamic of the war earlier this month.
At a vast makeshift cemetery in woods near the recaptured town of Izium, Ukrainian forensic experts have so far dug up 146 bodies buried without coffins, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Monday. Some 450 graves have been found at the site, Zelenskiy has said
Fanning out in groups beneath the trees, workers used shovels to exhume the partially decomposed bodies, some of which locals said had lain in the town streets long after they died before being buried.
The government has not yet said how most of the people died, though officials say dozens were killed in the shelling of an apartment building, and there are signs others were killed by shrapnel.
Ukraine is continuing to exhume a mass grave site in Izyum where the bodies of civilians and soldiers – some of whom appear to have been tortured – after liberating it from Russia
Ukrainian forensic scientists and war crimes investigators dressed in hazmat suits work to exhume graves in a forest near the city of Izyum
According to preliminary examinations, four showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case a rope tied round their neck, Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of investigative police in the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the burial ground.
Bolvinov said the great majority of the bodies appeared to be civilians. Locals have been identifying their dead by matching names to numbers on flimsy wooden crosses marking the graves.
‘Soldiers had their hands tied, there were signs of torture on civilians,’ Bolvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers were in a mass grave at the site.
Reuters could not corroborate Ukraine’s allegations of torture.
The Kremlin denied on Monday that Russia was to blame for atrocities that Ukraine says it has uncovered in the recaptured territory.
‘It’s a lie, and of course we will defend the truth in this story,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, comparing the allegations to incidents earlier in the war where Russia claimed without evidence that atrocities were staged by Ukrainians.
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