Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the seizure of the strategic town of Lyman from Russian control on Saturday as Ukrainian forces continued their counter-offensive.
Kiev’s most significant battlefield win in weeks provides a potential base for further attacks in the east while increasing pressure on the Kremlin.
“From 1230 (1130 CET) Lyman will be completely evacuated,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a short video clip on his Telegram channel. “Thank you to our troops … Glory to Ukraine!”
“In the past week there were more Ukrainian flags in Donbass. In a week there will be even more,” Zelenskyy said in his earlier nightly address.
Ukrainian soldiers announced the capture in a video taken in front of the Council building in the city center and posted on social media.
“Dear Ukrainians, today the Armed Forces of Ukraine … liberated and took control of the settlement of Lyman in the Donetsk region,” says one of the soldiers. At the end of the video, a group of soldiers cheer, throw down Russian flags from the roof of the building and hoist a Ukrainian flag in their place.
Russia’s loss of the eastern city came just a day after Vladimir Putin declared the Donetsk region in which it is located, along with three other regions, to be part of Russia.
The consequences are more than symbolic. Lyman’s role as a transport and logistics hub is a fresh blow to the Kremlin, which is trying to escalate the war by illegally annexing four regions of Ukraine.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin described Lyman’s capture as “absolutely…significant”.
“We are very encouraged by what we are seeing right now. Lyman sits astride the Russian supply lines. And they used those routes to push men and supplies south and west. And without these routes “It will be more difficult (for the Russians),” he said on Sunday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the capture of the city, where Ukrainian flags were raised over public buildings on Saturday, shows Ukraine’s ability to drive out Russian forces and shows the impact the use of advanced Western weapons can have in Ukraine on the conflict.
In its daily assessment, the UK Ministry of Defense described Russia’s withdrawal from the city as a “significant political setback” as it is located in “a region that Russia is said to be ‘liberating’ and has attempted to illegally annex”.
Moscow claimed the withdrawal was a strategic move to more advantageous positions and caused damage to Ukrainian forces fighting for Lyman.
But the British intelligence briefing said the city was “probably defended by undermanned elements” of Russian military units and reservists. ” it said.
Russian forces withdrew after being encircled by Ukrainian forces. The capture of the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push further into Russian-held territory.
Lyman is in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk, two regions Russia annexed on Friday after forcing the population to vote at gunpoint in referendums.
Moscow’s withdrawal from Lyman prompted immediate criticism from some Russian officials. The crushing defeat prompted the head of Russia’s Chechnya region, a close ally of President Putin, to call for the possible use of low-grade nuclear weapons.
“Further losses of territory in illegally occupied areas will almost certainly intensify this public criticism and increase the pressure on senior commanders,” the British military briefing said.
Russia on Sunday attacked the hometown of the Ukrainian president with suicide drones.
In southern Ukraine, Krivyi Rih was hit by a Russian drone attack that hit a school and destroyed two floors of it, said Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of Ukraine’s Dnepropetrovsk region. A fire triggered by the drone attack has been extinguished, he added.
Russia has started using Iranian-made suicide drones to attack targets in Ukraine in recent weeks. Ukraine’s air force said it shot down five Iranian-made drones in southern Ukraine overnight while two others broke through air defenses.
Meanwhile, Russian attacks also targeted the city of Zaporizhia, according to Ukrainian authorities on Sunday. It comes amid ongoing concerns over the fate of the city’s nuclear power plant director Ihor Murashov, who was arrested by Russian forces on Friday.
The Ukrainian military said it attacked a Russian ammunition depot in Chernihiv in the south of the country, hitting other Russian command posts, ammunition depots and two S-300 anti-aircraft batteries.
Reports of military activity could not be verified immediately.
Ukrainian forces have retaken tracts of land in a counteroffensive that began in September and has humiliated and angered Russia.
Moscow’s annexations followed hastily staged referendums condemned as “sham” votes, in which some people were forced to vote at gunpoint, according to Human Rights Watch.
Vladimir Putin, in some of his toughest and most anti-Western rhetoric yet, portrays Ukraine’s gains as a US-orchestrated effort to destroy Russia and, this week, stepped up nuclear threats.