Ukraine has recaptured a village close to the eastern city of Lysychansk, in a small but symbolic victory that means Russia no longer has full control of the Luhansk region, one of Vladimir Putin’s key war aims.
Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Haidai, said Ukraine’s armed forces were in “complete control” of Bilohorivka. “It’s a suburb of Lysychansk. Soon we will drive these scumbags out of there with a broom,” he said. “Step by step, centimetre by centimetre, we will liberate our entire land from the invaders.”
Video footage shared on Telegram showed Ukrainian soldiers patrolling on foot down a ruined street. Russian forces had occupied all of Luhansk province for the past two and a half months. After a long and grinding battle, Ukraine’s general staff decided to retreat in July from the cities of Sievierdonetsk and Lysychansk.
Over the past 12 days, Ukrainian regiments in the north-east have mounted a stunning counteroffensive, liberating more than 300 settlements across the Kharkiv region and forcing Russian units to flee in disarray. The reclaimed area is half the size of Wales, and goes right up to the Russian border.
There were unconfirmed reports on Monday of Ukrainian troops advancing into Lysychansk. There now seems little prospect that the Kremlin will be able to take control of the whole of the Donbas, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. In March, Putin said this was the goal of his “special military operation” in Ukraine, after his failed attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv.
Over the weekend, Russian troops shelled the city of Kupiansk from new, hastily constructed defensive positions just east of the Oskil River. Hundreds of people were evacuated. Ukraine said it took control of all of the city on Friday, crossing in amphibious vehicles over a pontoon bridge to the river’s left bank.
Ukrainian officials say 200 Russian soldiers died in a strike on Sunday when a missile hit a former bus shelter where they were based, in the frontline city of Svatove.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russia has failed to send reinforcements. It is now under pressure and vulnerable to a further counteroffensive, the thinktank said.
Governor Haidai said the leaders of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic were beginning to panic. There have been numerous reports of snatch squads detaining men on the street and drafting them into the army. Mobile communications and the internet have been jammed, to prevent people from learning about Moscow’s military setbacks, he claimed.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, accused the Kremlin on Monday of reckless behaviour after a shell landed 300 metres from a nuclear power plant in the southern Mykolaiv region. The missile damaged buildings and blew out windows. Three power lines were temporarily knocked out at the Pivdennoukrainsk facility.
Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, said all three of its nuclear reactors were working normally and had not been damaged. “Fortunately, there were no casualties among the station staff,” it said. The agency published two photographs showing a large crater that it said was caused by the blast.
“They forgot what a nuclear power plant is. Russia endangers the whole world. We have to stop it before it’s too late,” Zelenskiy wrote on his Telegram channel. He has previously accused Putin of nuclear terrorism and blackmail and has called on the international community to intervene.
The Mykolaiv region has been under constant rocket attack by Russian forces since the start of the invasion. Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive to liberate the nearby city of Kherson. It has made slower progress than in the Kharkiv region, across a flat steppe terrain and with Russian units dug in.
Another Ukrainian nuclear power plant, at Zaporizhzhia – which is Europe’s largest and lies about 155 miles (250km) east of the Mykolaiv site – was shut down this month owing to Russian shelling, prompting concerns about a possible nuclear disaster.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is held by Russian forces but operated by Ukrainian staff. The shelling has damaged buildings and disrupted power lines.
The UN nuclear watchdog said this weekend that one of the four main power lines at Zaporizhzhia had been repaired and was once again supplying the plant with electricity from the Ukrainian grid.
Russia soldiers have used the territory to shell the Ukrainian-controlled cities of Nikopol and Marhanets across the Dnieper River. More than 40 countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency have urged Putin to hand control of the station back to Ukraine.