The Daily Telegraph

Ukraine counter-offensive liberates Luhansk village

Belogorovk­a, just 12 miles from key towns, celebrates in region Russian forces had shelled for five months

- By James Kilner

UKRAINE has recaptured its first village in Luhansk, a region that Russian forces took five months to bomb into submission and conquer.

Belogorovk­a is the latest prize for the counter-offensive pushing Russia away from the second city of Kharkiv. The village lies only a dozen or so miles from the towns of Lysychansk and Severdones­tsk, key regional economic centres in the wider Donbas region that the Kremlin has promised to defend at all costs.

The village also lies 45 miles east of the Oskil river where Russian forces fled after a Ukrainian offensive around Kharkiv recaptured an area the size of Devon in a few days.

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian head of Luhansk, said that his country’s soldiers were now in “full control” of Belogorovk­a.

“We all should be patient in anticipati­on of a large-scale deoccupati­on of the Luhansk region,” he said.

Luhansk and neighbouri­ng Donetsk rebelled against Ukraine in 2014 and fought a war to set up pro-russia pseudo-states. The Kremlin used defending them as an excuse to launch its invasion of Ukraine in February.

But now, armed with hi-tech Western weapons, US intelligen­ce and skyhigh morale, Ukrainian forces have promised to retake all of Luhansk.

This would be another humiliatio­n for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, whose forces had celebrated pushing Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk at the start of July.

Built on Russia’s massive artillery advantage, their offensive had been grinding and destructiv­e. Ukrainian forces, though, retreated, regrouped and planned a massive counter-attack based on a deception that caught Russia’s exhausted forces off-guard.

When Ukrainian forces attacked around Kharkiv two weeks ago, Russia’s weak defensive line collapsed and its soldiers fled.

Ukraine’s ministry of defence has now posted pictures of a captured T90-M tank, the most sophistica­ted in the Russian army, that was abandoned when Russian soldiers were routed.

“A sign of an army in crisis,” said Phillips O’brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews.

Despite the caution from Mr Gaidai, Prof O’brien said that Ukrainian forces can now pause for a rest and then push to recapture the whole of Luhansk and the essential supply lines that run from the southern Russian city of Belgorod to Donbas.

“If the Ukrainians cross the Oskil River in depth, the Russians may have to fall back a long way,” he said.

To capture Luhansk earlier this year, Russian forces had bombed its civilian population and its Ukrainian defenders. Towns were reduced to rubble and thousands of people fled.

And life under Russian occupation was also brutal.

In Izyum, a town in Kharkiv region near Luhansk that Ukrainian forces liberated last week, investigat­ors have found around 400 bodies buried in shallow graves. Some had their hands tied behind their backs and showed signs of torture.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Ukrainian energy officials said that Russia had fired missiles at the South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Yuzhnoukra­insk in Mykolaiv region.

‘We all should be patient in anticipati­on of a largescale deoccupati­on of the Luhansk region’

‘If the Ukrainians cross the Oskil river in depth, the Russians may have to fall back a long way’

Analysts have said that the Kremlin may want to distract attention from its military setbacks. It’s internatio­nal credibilit­y has also taken a battering after it was announced that Armenian and Azerbaijan­i officials will fly to New York for peace talks mediated by the US.

This reflects the Kremlin’s crumbling authority since it invaded Ukraine.

The Kremlin has previously seen itself as the main powerbroke­r in former Soviet South Caucasus.

 ?? ?? Olga Valkova, 64, (right) embraces her sister-in-law Lidya Kandaurov, 58, as she returns after six months to her home village in Kharkiv region on Sunday
Olga Valkova, 64, (right) embraces her sister-in-law Lidya Kandaurov, 58, as she returns after six months to her home village in Kharkiv region on Sunday

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