Kyiv’s troops have liberated more of eastern and southeastern Ukraine, as Russia admitted it was unclear how much of its neighbour’s territory it now claimed to possess following a Kremlin annexation decree that drew international condemnation.
Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that “using numerically superior tank units in the direction of Zolota Balka, Oleksandrivka, the enemy managed to penetrate deep into our defences,” in reference to combat in the Kherson region of southeastern Ukraine, adding that Moscow’s troops had moved to “a pre-prepared defensive line and continue to inflict massive damage” on Ukraine’s forces with artillery fire.
Vladimir Saldo, a Moscow-installed official in Kherson region, said the situation was “tense” after Ukrainian forces broke through Russian lines at the village of Dudchany. He said the attack had been repelled when Russian air support arrived, however.
Dudchany is about 30km south of where the frontline stood before Ukraine’s advance, and just 120km from occupied Kherson city along the west bank of the Dnieper river, which has become a difficult natural barrier for Russia to cross since Kyiv’s forces hit bridges and enemy command posts and fuel and arms depots in the area with western-supplied rockets.
Ukraine’s troops also retook more ground in the east, where they liberated the strategic transport and supply hub of Lyman in Donetsk region over the weekend, just hours after the Kremlin claimed permanent sovereignty over all of that province and three others – Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – none of which it fully controls.
With Russian troops in retreat or under heavy pressure along much of the front line, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while Russia claimed that all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions were now its territory, the situation was less clear elsewhere. “As for the borders of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, we will continue to consult with the population of these regions,” he said on Monday, calling this the “unequivocal answer” but without explaining what he meant.
When asked how Russia would “consult” with local residents, Mr Peskov said: “I cannot answer your question now but, in any case, any configuration [of borders] will undoubtedly depend solely on the will of the people who live in this or that territory.”
The Kremlin claims to be protecting Ukraine’s Russian speakers from a supposedly “neo-Nazi” government in the pro-western democracy, where thousands of civilians have been killed and millions displaced since Moscow launched its all-out invasion in February.
Russian media said the Kremlin sacked the commander of the country’s western military district after a recent series of battlefield defeats, most notably a chaotic retreat from Kharkiv region this month as Ukraine rapidly retook an area the size of Cyprus.
Russia’s lower house of parliament rubber-stamped the annexation of the four Ukrainian regions on Monday and the upper house is scheduled to do the same on Tuesday, as the Kremlin tries to “lock in” territorial gains in Ukraine despite widespread international condemnation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency welcomed the release from Russian custody on Monday of Ihor Murashov, the Ukrainian director of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in occupied Ukraine, three days after he was detained by Moscow’s forces.