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Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian state television broadcast an interview on Friday in which it acknowledged Kyiv had scored a “big victory” after Ukrainian forces stormed the front line in a lightning advance.
The Ukrainian hack Near Kharkiv was the fastest advance reported by either side in months, and one of the biggest shifts in the war’s momentum since Russian forces abandoned their disastrous assault on the capital, Kyiv, in March.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky It said troops “liberated dozens of settlements” and recaptured more than 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) of land in the Kharkiv region in the east as well as Kherson in the south in the past week.
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Western military analysts say the advance puts the Ukrainians within walking distance of the main railway line on which Moscow depends to maintain its power in eastern Ukraine, and could leave thousands of Russian soldiers at risk of being cut off.
A day after providing little or no response, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video of its troops rushing to reinforce the area.
“The fact that our defenses have been breached is already a great victory for the Ukrainian armed forces,” official Russian television showed in an interview. Russian law prohibits all reports of the conflict that differ from the official accounts.
Zelensky posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers declaring that they had captured the eastern town of Balaklya, along a front stretching south of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The Ukrainian military said it advanced about 50 km (30 miles) across that front after an attack that appeared to surprise the Russians.
The Kremlin declined to comment on the progress and referred questions to the Russian military.
Such rapid progress has largely been unheard of since Russia abandoned its attack on Kyiv in March. Turn the war mainly into relentless grinding along the entrenched front lines.
Ukraine did not allow independent journalists into the area to confirm its progress, but Ukrainian news websites showed pictures of soldiers cheering from armored vehicles roaring in front of street signs bearing the names of cities formerly under Russian control.
“We see success in Kherson now, we see some success in Kharkiv, which is very encouraging,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a news conference with his Czech counterpart in Prague.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank, said the Ukrainians are now only 15 kilometers from Kobyansk, an intersection of major railway lines that Moscow has relied on to supply its forces on the battlefields in the east.
Moscow has always used the advantage of its firepower to make slow progress by bombing towns and villages. But this tactic is based on the daily train arrival of tons of ammunition to the front line from western Russia.
Ukraine’s General Staff said early Friday that the retreating Russian forces were trying to evacuate the wounded and damaged military equipment near Kharkiv.
“Thanks to skillful and coordinated actions, the armed forces of Ukraine, with the support of the local population, advanced almost 50 km in three days.”
Kirillo Tymoshenko, a top aide to Zelensky, posted a photo showing a Ukrainian soldier posing with a prisoner, blindfolded and tied in civilian clothes. Tymoshenko identified the prisoner as the captive head of the Russian-installed administration in Ivanivka, a village deep in the territory formerly under Russian control.
Tens of thousands have been killed, millions driven from their homes and entire cities destroyed by Russian forces since Moscow launched what it called a “special military operation” in February to “disarm” Ukraine. Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians.
In the latest reported attack on civilians, Ukrainian officials said Russia fired across the border at a hospital in the northeastern Sumy region on Friday morning, destroying the building and injuring people. Reuters could not independently confirm the news.
Governor Ole Senhopov said that the Kharkiv center, which was regularly bombed by Russia, was bombed by Russian missiles, injuring ten people, including three children. Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on Telegram that rockets had hit a children’s art center, a school and private homes.
The sudden Ukrainian breakthrough in the east came a week after Kyiv announced the start of a long-awaited counter-offensive hundreds of kilometers away at the other end of the front line in Kherson province in the south.
Ukrainian officials say Russia has moved thousands of troops south to respond to Kherson’s advance, leaving other parts of the front line exposed and creating an opportunity for a lightning attack.
“We found a weak spot where the enemy was not ready,” presidential adviser Oleksiy Aristovich said in a video posted on YouTube.
Less information has emerged so far about the campaign in the south, where Ukraine has kept journalists away and published few details.
Ukraine is using new artillery and missiles supplied by the West to strike at Russian rear positions there, with the aim of trapping thousands of Russian troops on the western bank of the wide Dnipro River and cutting off supplies to them.
Aristovich admitted that the advance in the south was not as fast as the sudden breakthrough in the east.
The official RIA news agency quoted the Russian-appointed Kherson authorities as saying that some Ukrainian forces were captured during the counterattack and some Polish tanks they were using were destroyed. Reuters was unable to verify those reports.
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(Reuters reporter reporting) Writing by Peter Graf Editing by Philippa Fletcher
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