Russian troops retreat as Ukraine’s forces enter key town in annexed region

Ukraine begins to recapture Lyman in Donetsk, which Putin had declared as part of Russia on Friday

Ukranian soldiers are seen on the outskirts of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, October 1, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Ukranian soldiers are seen on the outskirts of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, October 1, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

KYIV — Ukraine said Saturday its forces were entering the key eastern town of Lyman, located in one of the four Ukrainian regions that Russia annexed despite international condemnation.

The recapture of Lyman — which Moscow’s forces pummelled for weeks to control this spring — marked the first Ukrainian military victory in territory that the Kremlin has claimed as its own and has vowed to defend by all possible means.

Ukraine’s defense ministry announced its forces were “entering” Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region after Kyiv’s army said it had “encircled” several thousand Russian troops near the town.

The ministry posted a video of soldiers holding up a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag near a sign with the town’s name.

Shortly after Ukraine’s announcement, Russia’s defense ministry said it had “withdrawn” troops from Lyman “to more favorable lines.”

Ukrainian officials had earlier indicated that Russian forces in Lyman had been encircled. It was not immediately clear whether those claims had been incorrect.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Russia should consider using low-yield nuclear weapons after Moscow’s troops were forced out of Lyman.

“In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel.

Kadyrov is in charge of Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechnya Republic which he governs with an iron fist.

The developments came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin staged a grand ceremony in the Kremlin to celebrate the annexations of four Ukrainian territories.

“I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens forever,” Putin said.

From left, Moscow-appointed head of Kherson Region Vladimir Saldo, Moscow-appointed head of Zaporizhzhia region Yevgeny Balitsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Denis Pushilin, leader of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Leonid Pasechnik, leader of self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic pose for a photo during a ceremony to sign the treaties for four regions of Ukraine to join Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (Grigory Sysoyev, Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP)

US President Joe Biden condemned Friday’s ceremony in Moscow as a “sham routine” and pledged to continue backing Kyiv.

The four annexed territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Together, the five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, where Kyiv in recent weeks has been clawing back territory.

Civilians gunned down

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials accused Russia of killing 24 civilians, including 13 children, in an attack on a road convoy near a recently recaptured town in the eastern Kharkiv region.

Ukrainian troops on Friday had shown AFP reporters a group of vehicles riddled with bullet holes and several corpses in civilian clothes, a short distance east of the recently recaptured town of Kupiansk.

A Ukrainian official said the death toll of a Russian attack on a separate civilian convoy near the city of Zaporizhzhia on Friday had risen to 30 civilians and one police officer killed.

‘Illegitimate’ annexation

Following Friday’s annexation, Washington announced “severe” new sanctions against Russian officials and the defense industry, and said G7 allies support imposing “costs” on any nation that backs the annexation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the US-led military alliance NATO to grant his country fast-track membership.

He also vowed never to hold talks with Russia as long as Putin was in power.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leaves after attending a national flag-raising ceremony in the freed Izium, Ukraine, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg slammed the annexation as “illegal and illegitimate” but remained non-committal after Ukraine said it was applying to join the Western alliance.

Turkey said Saturday that Russia’s annexation was a “grave violation of the established principles of international law.”

Despite warnings from Putin prior to the annexation that he could use nuclear weapons to defend the captured territories, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would “continue liberating our land and our people.”

Kuleba also said Ukraine brought the annexations to the International Court of Justice and urged the Hague-based court to hear the case “as soon as possible.”

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Friday that Washington would announce an “immediate” new weapons shipment for Kyiv next week.

Sullivan also said that while there is a “risk” of Putin using nuclear weapons, there is no indication he would do so imminently.

Nuclear plant boss detained

On Saturday, Ukraine’s nuclear agency said a “Russian patrol” detained the director general of the Moscow-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

This handout photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on August 7, 2022, shows a general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

Ihor Murashov was leaving the plant Friday when he was detained and “driven in an unknown direction” while blindfolded, Energoatom said.

Zaporizhzhia — Europe’s largest nuclear energy facility — has been at the center of tensions in recent weeks after Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of strikes on and near the plant, raising fears of an atomic disaster.

Russia on Friday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the annexation of the regions, while China, India, Brazil and Gabon abstained.

Although Russia’s veto was a certainty, Western powers had hoped to demonstrate Moscow’s growing isolation on the world stage and will now take the condemnation effort to the General Assembly, where every nation has a vote and none can kill a resolution.

At a UNESCO meeting Friday in Mexico City, representatives of dozens of countries walked out as Russia took the floor, symbolically condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

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