Russian forces retreat amid Ukrainian counter-offensive

Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian forces on Sunday successfully launched their swift counterattack in the northeastern part of the country, even as a nuclear power plant in the Russian-occupied south was shut down completely in an effort to prevent a radiological disaster as fighting raged. nearby.

Kyiv’s actions to retake Russian-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region have forced Moscow to withdraw its forces to prevent an encirclement, leaving behind large numbers of weapons and munitions in a precipitous retreat as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday..

Cheerful Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked the Russians in a video address Saturday night, saying: “The Russian army these days is showing the best it can do – showing its back.”

He posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers raising the national flag over Chkalovsky, another town that was recaptured in the counterattack.

Yuri Kochevenko, of the 95th Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, tweeted a video of what appeared to be the city center of Izyum. The city was considered an important command and supply center for the Northern Front of Russia.

“Everything around us has been destroyed, but we will restore everything. It was, is and will be Ukraine,” Kochevenko said in his video, which shows the empty central square and destroyed buildings.

While most attention was focused on the counterattack, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was reconnected to Ukraine’s power grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor. To protect the plant in the middle of the fight.

The station, one of the ten largest atomic power stations in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Ukraine and Russia traded blame for the bombing around them.

Since a Sept. 5 fire from the bombing disrupted the plant’s transmission lines, the reactor has been operating essential safety equipment in so-called “island mode” – an unreliable system that has left the plant increasingly vulnerable to a potential nuclear accident.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency that has two experts at the station, welcomed the recovery of external energy. But the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, said he remained “extremely concerned about the situation at the plant, which remains in danger as long as any bombing continues.”

He said that talks had begun on establishing a safety and security zone around the factory.

In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons from the station in line with the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In the fighting, Ukrainian Army Commander General Valery Zaloghny said his forces had recaptured about 3,000 square kilometers (1,160 square miles) since the counter-offensive began in early September. He said Ukrainian forces are only 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) from the border with Russia.

Kharkiv Governor Ole Sinihopov said that Ukrainian forces have regained control of more than 40 settlements in the area, noting that he could not give an exact number because the process is still unfolding.

Defense Minister Anna Maliar said Ukrainian forces were firing propaganda shells at areas they were seeking to advance.

She wrote on Facebook: “One of the methods of informational work with the enemy in areas where there is no Internet is to launch propaganda missiles.” Before moving forward, our defenders salute the Russian invaders and give them the last chance to surrender. Otherwise, only death awaits them on Ukrainian soil.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces also left several settlements in the Kherson region while Ukrainian forces press for a counterattack. Cities are not specified.

The official in the Russian-backed administration in Kherson, Kirill Strimosov, said on social media that the city was safe and asked everyone to remain calm.

The Russian withdrawal marks the biggest field success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, near the start of the war. The Kharkiv campaign came as a surprise to Moscow, which moved many of its forces from the region to the south awaiting a counterattack there.

In an embarrassing attempt to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that the withdrawal of troops from Izyum and other areas was aimed at bolstering Moscow’s forces in the neighboring Donetsk region to the south. The explanation sounded similar in the way Russia justified its withdrawal from Kyiv earlier this year.

Igor Strelkov, who commanded Russian-backed forces when the separatist conflict erupted in Donbass in 2014, mocked the Russian Defense Ministry’s explanation for the retreat, noting that the handover of Russian territory near the border was a “contribution to a Ukrainian settlement.”

The withdrawal caused an angry reaction from Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who complained of it, calling it a major defeat, and urging the Kremlin to intensify its war effort. Many have criticized Russian authorities for continuing fireworks and other lavish celebrations in Moscow, which falls on holiday in the city on Saturday, despite the disaster in Ukraine.

Putin attended the inauguration of a giant Ferris wheel in a Moscow park on Saturday, inaugurating a new transportation line and a sports arena. This action highlighted the Kremlin’s narrative that the war, which it calls a “special military operation,” was going according to plan without affecting Russians’ daily lives.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow celebrations as a huge mistake.

“Fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have very serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his channel on the messaging app. “The authorities should not celebrate when people are in mourning.”

In a sign of a potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed president of Chechnya, said the retreat was caused by grave mistakes by Russian leaders.

“They made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said. “If they do not make changes in the strategy for conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will have to contact the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.”

Despite Ukraine’s gains, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the head of NATO warned on Friday that the war would likely drag on for months, urging the West to continue supporting Ukraine through a potentially difficult winter.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Ukraine’s developments as very encouraging.

“I am proud that the United States and our allies have taken up arms to support the Ukrainian people in this fight,” Keane said in a statement to The Associated Press. We and our allies must continue to stand by Ukraine. Putin needs to realize that the only way out is to end his failed war.”

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Associated Press columnist Ellen Nikmeyer contributed in Washington.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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