Ukrainian forces claim to have retaken more areas in their counteroffensive against Russian troops over the past day, with Moscow responding by heavy retaliatory strikes on the recaptured ground.
“In the past 24 hours, Ukrainian armed forces drove the enemy away from more than 20 settlements” and are regaining “full control over them,” the Ukrainian army said in a statement on Monday.
“In their retreat, Russian troops are hastily abandoning their positions and fleeing.”
The Ukrainian army also claimed on Monday its forces had recaptured 500 square kilometers in the southern region of Kherson, in addition to the huge gains in the east over the weekend, including the cities of Izyum, Kupyansk and Balakliya. The Russian military earlier in the day announced air, rocket and artillery attacks on reclaimed areas in Kharkiv.
On Sunday, Kiev claimed swathes of land spanning up to 3,000 square kilometers had been recaptured since the beginning of the counteroffensive earlier this month.
Ukraine’s eastern regions saw widespread power cuts after Russian strikes on Sunday night, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying there was “a total blackout in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, a partial one in the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.”
The deputy head of the president’s office said 80 percent of the water and electricity supply had been restored in Kharkiv by Monday morning.
The Russian strikes were also claimed to have disrupted railway services in Ukraine’s east.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive enters ‘third phase’
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, said in an interview published on Monday that the war had entered a new phase following the supply of Western arms.
Reznikov told the French daily Le Monde that “the counteroffensive is the third phase” of Ukraine’s plan to retake positions beginning in the south and north.
The Ukrainian defense minister said the first phase was an attempt to dissuade Russia from pressing its attack while the second was aimed at “stabilizing the front and testing their capacities for resilience.”
“Our army chiefs have conceived a plan in the function of the weapons we have received from our partners: we started by using the HIMARS mobile artillery systems [from the US] to cut off enemy supply lines and destroy fuel and weapon depots,” he said.
Reznikov said Kiev believed a Ukrainian victory would mean a full recovery of territories seized by Russia on February 24.
Russia launched the “special military operation” in Ukraine with the declared objective of “demilitarizing” the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, which is made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk self-proclaimed republics. In 2014, the two republics broke away from Ukraine, refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government there that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.
Announcing the operation, President Vladimir Putin said the mission was meant to defend “people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Since the onset of the operation, the United States and its European allies have supplied billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry to Ukraine and imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow. Russia has repeatedly warned such a behavior will only prolong the war.