By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces kept pushing north in the Kharkiv region and advancing to the south and east of the country after the swift fall of Russia’s main bastion in the northeast, Ukraine’s army chief said on Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed Russia’s retreat from the city of Izium in the Kharkiv province as a breakthrough in the six-month-old war, saying this winter could bring more rapid gains of territory if Kyiv can get more powerful weapons.
“In the Kharkiv direction, we began to advance not only to the south and east, but also to the north. There are 50 km to go to the state border (with Russia),” Ukraine’s chief commander General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said on Telegram.
He said the country’s armed forces have regained control of more than 3,000 square km (1,158 square miles) since the beginning of this month.
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The fall of Izium marked Russian forces’ worst defeat since they were pushed back from the capital Kyiv in March, as thousands of Russian soldiers left behind ammunition and equipment as they fled.
“I believe that this winter is a turning point, and it can lead to the rapid de-occupation of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said in comments to a political forum published on his website late on Saturday. “We see how they (occupiers) are fleeing in some directions. If we were a little stronger with weapons, we would de-occupy faster.”
Ukrainian officials stopped short of confirming they had recaptured Izium, but Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak posted a photo of troops on its outskirts and tweeted an emoji of grapes. The city’s name means “raisin.”
Kyiv-based military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the gains could pave the way for a further push into the Luhansk region, whose capture Russia claimed at the beginning of June.
“If you look at the map, it is logical to assume that the offensive will develop in the direction of Svatovo – Starobelsk, and Sieverodonetsk – Lysychansk. These are two promising directions,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Writing by Tomasz Janowski; Editing by William MacLean)
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