The Daily Telegraph

Commanders among first to retreat as rout at Kharkiv signals turning point

Troops abandon northern part of key area as Kremlin is accused of ‘betraying those still fighting there’

- By Campbell Macdiarmid in Kharkiv and James Kilner

‘The Ukrainian counteroff­ensive is collapsing Russia’s northern Donbas axis’

RUSSIAN troops were forced to abandon their positions around the entire northern region of Kharkiv and retreat back into Russia, its defence ministry admitted, a reversal that analysts described as a shock rout and a possible turning point in the war.

Ukrainian soldiers in Kharkiv said that they had seen Russian commanders “literally running away” and soldiers changing into civilian clothes to escape Ukraine’s surprise offensive.

The impressive Ukrainian attack has recaptured dozens of villages and towns, some north of Kharkiv on the border with Russia, in what appears to be a near-total collapse of Russia’s front in the north-eastern region.

Analysts said that all of Russia’s forces were now fleeing the Kharkiv area and even pro-russia military bloggers admitted that the front had collapsed.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said that about 450 sq miles of its homeland had been recaptured, an area the size of Lancashire. Until this point the Russians were said to have held around 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory

“Our forces entered Kupiansk. The liberation of Kupiansk and Izyum districts of Kharkiv region are ongoing,” said the Ukrainian military.

Several Ukrainian cities reported power outages last night, with Ukrainian bloggers and social media users reporting Russian missile attacks. They said that these were “revenge strikes”. Russian channels on Telegram said at least two power stations in Kremenchuk and Kharkiv were struck by precision rockets last night.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, tweeted: “A total blackout in the Kharkiv & Donetsk regions, a partial one in the Zaporizhzh­ia, Dnipropetr­ovsk & Sumy regions. RF terrorists remain terrorists & attack critical infrastruc­ture. No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light & heat. #Russia Is a terrorist state.

The governor of the eastern Kharkiv region said Russian attacks on “critical infrastruc­ture” had disrupted electricit­y and water supplies, while the head of the Dnipropetr­ovsk region claimed

‘The liberation of Kupiansk and Izyum districts of Kharkiv region are ongoing’

‘Offensive is routing Russian forces [they] are not conducting a controlled withdrawal’

Moscow’s forces had “hit energy infrastruc­ture” in retaliatio­n for “defeat on the battlefiel­d”.

Kupiansk and Izyum have been heavily fought over and their capture by Russia was celebrated by the Kremlin earlier in the war. They are also vital supply hubs for Russian forces in Donbas.

A video from Izyum shows five soldiers standing on the roof of a destroyed government building firing rounds into the air, waving the Ukrainian flag and shouting “Glory to Ukraine”. Various unverified videos show Ukrainian soldiers being warmly welcomed by Kharkiv locals with hot meals, flowers and hugs.

Amid the progress of Ukrainian forces, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said yesterday Russia is prepared to sit down for peace talks.

Even the Russian ministry of defence has admitted that it can no longer hang on to territory around Kharkiv.

During its daily video briefing by Lt Gen Igor Konashenko­v, the Russian defence ministry spokesman, a map flashed up showing that the Russian defence ministry now considered only a thin sliver of land to the east of the Oskil River to be under its control.

Lt Gen Konashenko­v has been mocked by pro-ukraine social media users. Russian military bloggers, meanwhile, are becoming increasing­ly frustrated with the Kremlin’s strategies.

“Not to say a word about the realities of what is happening around Kharkiv, means to betray those who fought there and are still fighting,” the pro-russia blogger Military Informant told his 462,000 subscriber­s.

The scale of the Russian defeat around Kharkiv is only just emerging but videos and photos uploaded online show dozens and dozens of abandoned tanks and other equipment.

Body armour and rifles, rations and clothes were also discarded by the fleeing Russian army.

Western analysts confirmed that Ukrainian forces looked to have captured most of the Kharkiv region. “It seems now confirmed there is a general Russian withdrawal from Kharkiv Oblast,” said James Rushton, a British defence analyst based in Ukraine.

The Us-based Institute for the Study of War was blunt with its assessment of how Russian forces had performed. “The Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv Oblast is routing Russian forces and collapsing Russia’s northern Donbas axis,” it said. “Russian forces are not conducting a controlled withdrawal.”

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 ?? ?? Clockwise from below: armoured fighting vehicles abandoned by fleeing invaders; Russian grenade launchers left abandoned; a Ukrainian soldier’s gesture of triumph
Clockwise from below: armoured fighting vehicles abandoned by fleeing invaders; Russian grenade launchers left abandoned; a Ukrainian soldier’s gesture of triumph
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