As the war in Ukraine hits its 200th day, the country has regained swaths of its south and east in a long-anticipated counterattack that has hit Russia hard.
The counteroffensive began in late August and initially focused on the southern regions of Kherson, which had been cleared by Russian forces on the first day of the invasion. Ukraine has launched another highly effective offensive in the area northeast of Kharkov.
Faced with the prospect of a large group of Russian troops being encircled, Moscow has entered a dramatic shift in the situation that has become the Kremlin’s biggest challenge since it launched its invasion on February 24. , ordered the withdrawal of troops from Kharkov.
Mykola Sunflovsky, a military expert at the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank, said: , good at maneuvering and showing great ingenuity. ”
Ukraine’s rapid progress is “important for seizing the initiative and boosting the morale of the army,” he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the military in a video address late Saturday, saying it had recovered more than 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of territory so far this month.
He also taunted Moscow over the withdrawal, stating that the Russian army was “showing all they could – showing their backs” and that “they made a good choice to flee”.
Both sides suffered heavy losses in Europe’s largest conflict since World War II.
A Ukrainian military commander said last month that nearly 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in action. Moscow has reported no losses of its own since his March, but Western estimates put the death toll at her 25,000.
Ukraine is trying to mobilize its population to reach a million active-duty troops, while Russia, by contrast, fears large-scale mobilization could fuel discontent and undermine domestic stability. and continue to rely on a limited contingent of volunteers.
As the war drags on, an increasing stream of Western weaponry over the summer has played a key role in the counteroffensive, helping Ukraine greatly improve its precision strike capabilities.
Ukrainian forces have retaken more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the counteroffensive began, Ukraine said.
In the Kherson area, Russian forces attempted to dislodge them from a foothold on the western bank of the Dnieper, which was a potential vantage point for Moscow to penetrate deeper into Ukraine.
An economic center at the confluence of the Dnieper and the Black Sea, the city of Kherson, with a pre-war population of about 300,000, was the first population center to fall in the war.
Russian forces also penetrated further north into the Zaporizhia region and seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. His final one of the six reactors, after running for several days in dangerous “island mode” to generate power for the plant’s critical cooling system after one of the power lines was restored. was stopped on Sunday.
Moscow installed a puppet government in the occupied territories, introduced its own currency, distributed Russian passports, and prepared for a local referendum that paved the way for annexation. But a counteroffensive derailed those plans, and a senior official in Moscow-backed Kherson said the vote there would have to be postponed.
The counterattack followed a coordinated attack on Russian infrastructure and supply lines.
Ukrainian forces are using US-made Himars multiple rocket launchers to shell two bridges across the Dnieper River, while Russian forces in the Kherson region are reluctant to rely on pontoon bridges in the face of daily strikes. did not get
Last month, a series of explosions hit an air base and ammunition depot in Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, highlighting the vulnerability of the peninsula critical to operations in the south.
Ukrainian authorities initially refrained from claiming responsibility, but the country’s military chief, General Valery Zarznyi, recently confirmed that his army had attacked them with rockets.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said:
Unlike in the south, where Ukrainian counterattacks progressed more slowly in the barren steppes of Kherson, leaving the army vulnerable to Russian artillery, the forests of the Kharkov region were open to lightning-fast surprise attacks from multiple directions. provided a natural cover to allow.
“After the transfer of Russian troops stationed in the Kharkov region to the south, speed and surprise became the key elements of the actions of the Ukrainian army,” Zdanov said.
Russian military expert Michael Coffman of the Virginia-based think tank CNA said the counterattack “proved a very important victory for Ukraine.”
“Russian forces appeared thinly dispersed and despite previous evidence of Ukrainian build-up, the military leadership was unprepared,” he wrote. “I think it’s fair to rate Russia as surprised by the lack of locally available reserves.”
After capturing the town of Balakriya, about 34 miles (55 km) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces launched an offensive further east to Kupyansk, a rail hub vital to sustaining Russian operations in the region. Expanded.
They claimed control of the strategic city on Saturday and cut off supply lines to a large group of Russian troops around Izyum to the south. Claiming that they were relocating to concentrate on the area, they ordered a hasty withdrawal.
Zhdanov said a successful counterattack would be the key to persuading allies to supply more arms to Ukraine.
“The events in the south and the Kharkov region must show the West that the Ukrainian army knows how to handle weapons and needs to develop its successes,” he said.