On Saturday, Russia pulled back its forces from areas in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region as Kyiv made its first significant territorial gains in its counteroffensives.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced Saturday that troops that were stationed in areas around the cities of Balakleya and Izyum were “regrouping” toward Donestk in the Donbas region.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov tried to downplay Ukraine’s success and claimed that the “regrouping” was done to “achieve the declared goals of the special military operation for the liberation of Donbas.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky celebrated the battlefield success and said that Ukraine has captured 2,000sq km (770sq miles) of territory since launching the counteroffensive.
Russian-installed officials in the region advised civilians in the territory that Ukraine was retaking to evacuate and flee to Russia. Ukraine has been cracking down on what they say are Russian “collaborators” for things even as minimal as social media posts.
According to Al Jazeera, witnesses described seeing traffic jams of cars with people leaving Russian-held territory. The Russian news agency TASS reported that facilities have been set up in the Russian region of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, to help refugees.
Ukraine’s success has spurred calls inside Russia for the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate and do what’s necessary to ensure victory in the war. Since launching his invasion, Putin has framed the war as “special military operation,” and has said that Russia has not “started anything yet in earnest” in its assault on Ukraine.
The success on the battlefield is a major propaganda victory for Ukraine, and officials in Kyiv are using it to push the West to send more weapons. Zelensky is set to appear virtually at a conference of US weapons makers on September 21, where he can appeal directly to the industry for more arms.