Kiev’s forces pressed a swift counteroffensive Sunday, driving Moscow’s troops out of swathes of territory it had occupied in the northeast and south as Moscow attacked power stations and other infrastructure.
During the bombardment, a massive fire broke out at a power station on Kharkiv’s western outskirts, killing at least one person. “Deliberate and cynical missile strikes” against civilian targets were condemned by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as terrorist acts.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was without electricity Sunday night. Few pedestrians used flashlights or mobile phones to light their way in the dark streets.
In the meantime, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Russia’s south completely shut down to prevent a radiation disaster.
As the war entered its 200th day on Sunday, Kiev’s actions to reclaim Russia-occupied Kharkiv regions forced Moscow to withdraw troops to prevent them from being surrounded, leaving behind significant amounts of weapons and munitions.
During the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyy, said about 1,160 square miles had been recaptured. According to him, Ukrainian troops are just 30 miles away from the Russian border.
Ukrainian forces were pictured in a video shared by one battalion in Hoptivka, a village just 12 miles north of Kharkiv and just over a mile from the border.
Several settlements in the region have been reclaimed by Ukrainian troops, according to Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov.
Kharkiv and Donetsk seemed to bear the brunt of the missile attacks launched by Russia Sunday night. According to Zelenskyy, the cities of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Sumy had only partially lost power.
Igor Terekhov, the mayor of Kharkiv, called the power outage “Russian revenge” for our army’s achievements on the front, especially in Kharkiv.
Zelenskyy posted a video of Kharkiv TEC-5 on fire after Russians allegedly struck the country’s second-largest power plant.
“Russian terrorists remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, only the goal of leaving people without light and heat,” he tweeted,
In spite of the attacks, Zelenskyy remained defiant. In response to Russia, he said: “Do you still think you can intimidate, break us, force us to make concessions?” … “For us, cold, hunger, darkness, and thirst do not seem as dangerous as your friendship and brotherhood. But history will put everything in place. And we will be with gas, lights, water and food … and WITHOUT you!”
While the majority of attention was focused on the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was reconnected to Ukraine’s electricity grid, which enabled engineers to shut down the plant’s last operational reactor during the conflict.
During the early days of the war, Russian forces occupied the plant, which is one of the 10 biggest nuclear power plants in the world. Shelling around it has been blamed on both Ukraine and Russia.
In the wake of a fire caused by shelling on Sept. 5, the plant had to operate in “island mode” – an unreliable system that put it at greater risk of an accident.
In its two experts at the site, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, welcomed the restoration of external power. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi expressed his grave concern about the situation at the plant, which remains dangerous as long as shelling continues.
Security and safety zones are being discussed, he said.
Following recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw troops and weaponry from the plant on Sunday.
During the last few days, Ukrainian forces have achieved their biggest battlefield success since thwarting a Russian invasion of Kyiv near the beginning of the conflict. A counteroffensive was expected in the south, so Moscow relocated many of its troops from the Kharkiv region to the south in anticipation of the Kharkiv campaign.
In a tweet, Yuriy Kochevenko, a member of the 95th brigade of Ukrainian troops, shows what appears to be central Izyum, an important command and supply center on Russia’s northern flank.
During Kochevenko’s video, which showed the empty central square and destroyed buildings, he said, “Everything around is destroyed, but we will restore it all. Izyum was Ukraine, is Ukraine, and will be Ukraine forever.”
While Ukrainian forces pressed the counteroffensive, Russian forces also left several settlements in Kherson region.
According to a Russian-backed official in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, the city is safe and everyone should remain calm.
Attempting to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday that its withdrawals from Izyum and other areas were aimed at strengthening its forces in neighboring Donetsk. The explanation was similar to how Russia justified withdrawing from Kyiv earlier this year.
During the separatist conflict that erupted in 2014 in the Donbas, Igor Strelkov led Russia-backed forces. He mocked the Russian Defense Ministry for explaining the retreat, suggesting that handing over Russian territory near the border was a “contribution to a Ukrainian settlement.”
Military bloggers and nationalist commentators criticized the retreat and urged the Kremlin to intensify its war effort after it was regarded as a major defeat. Despite the debacle in Ukraine, Russian authorities continued to celebrate a city holiday with fireworks and lavish celebrations in Moscow on Saturday.
A huge Ferris wheel was opened in a Moscow park on Saturday, and a new transportation link and a sports arena were inaugurated by Putin as well. As a result of the action, the Kremlin reiterated its narrative that the war was proceeding as expected without affecting the everyday lives of Russians.
The Moscow festivities were criticized by pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov.
“The fireworks in Moscow on a day of Russia’s military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Russian brass blundered in retreating, signaling a possible rift in the Kremlin leadership.
“It is my belief that they will draw the necessary conclusions if they make mistakes. I will need to contact the Defense Ministry and the country’s leadership to explain the real situation on the ground if they don’t change the strategy of conducting the special military operation within the next two days.” He said.
The heads of the U.S. State Department and NATO warned Friday that the war would likely last for months, urging the West to keep supporting Ukraine.
According to Daniel Fried, former U.S. ambassador to Poland and now distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, the Ukraine’s battlefield gains will aid the Biden administration in its quest to maintain financial support for the war effort from Congress and Western allies.
For more on this story, please consider these sources:
- Russian forces retreat amid Ukrainian counteroffensive The Associated Press
- Russian troops flee as Ukrainian forces make rapid gains CNN
- Russia-Ukraine War Live Updates: Latest News The New York Times
- Kharkiv offensive: Ukrainian army says it has tripled retaken area BBC
- Russian troops retreat as Ukrainian counteroffensive makes rapid progress CBS News