Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian forces were making “a good decision” in fleeing a counter-offensive by his country that has made significant gains in the east and south.
r Zelensky’s comments, in a video released by his office, came hours after Moscow said it was pulling back troops in part of the Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces have taken control of substantial territory in recent days.
“The Russian army in these days is showing the best that it can do — showing its back,” the president said.
“And, of course, it’s a good decision for them to run.”
The news came after days of apparent advances by Ukraine south of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, in what could become the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said troops would be regrouped from the Balakliya and Izyum areas to the eastern Donetsk region.
Izyum was a major base for Russian forces in the Kharkiv region, and earlier this week social media videos showed residents of Balakliya joyfully cheering as Ukrainian troops moved in.
Mr Konashenkov said the Russian move was being made “in order to achieve the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate Donbas”, one of the eastern Ukraine regions that Russia has declared sovereign.
The claim of a withdrawal to concentrate on Donetsk is similar to the justification Russia gave for pulling back its forces from the Kyiv region earlier this year when they failed to take the capital.
Earlier on Saturday, Ukrainian officials claimed major gains in the Kharkiv region, saying their troops had cut off vital supplies to Izyum.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko also suggested troops had retaken Kupiansk, a town along the main supply route to Izyum, long a focus on the Russian front line and the site of heavy artillery and other fighting.
Mr Nikolenko tweeted a photo showing soldiers in front of what he said was a government building in Kupiansk, 45 miles north of Izyum.
The Ukrainian Security Service posted a message hours later saying troops were in Kupiansk, further suggesting it had been seized. The military did not immediately confirm entering the town, a railway hub that Russia seized in February.
Videos on social media appeared to show Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Izyum at a roadside checkpoint. A large statue with the city’s name could be seen in the images. Ukrainian forces did not acknowledge holding the city.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said it believed Ukrainian troops had advanced as much as 30 miles south of Kharkiv, and described Russian forces around Izyum as “increasingly isolated”.
“Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns,” the British military said, adding that the loss of Kupiansk would greatly affect Russian supply lines.