Pressure is mounting on the Russians to withdraw as Ukrainian troops move deeper into occupied territory, reinforcing recent gains.
As the offensive continues, Ukrainian border guards say troops have taken control of Vovchansk – a town just two miles (three kilometers) from Russia and perhaps crucial to morale, a town The town was captured on the first day of the war.
Moscow admitted that they had recently withdrawn from areas in northeastern Kharkiv – and that troops were also withdrawing from Melitopol, the second largest city in the Zaporizhzhia region, in southern Ukraine.
The city’s pre-occupation mayor Ivan Fedorov wrote on Telegram that Russian troops were moving towards Crimea annexed by Moscow.
And he said columns of military equipment were reported at a checkpoint in Chonhar, a village marking the boundary between the Crimean Peninsula and mainland Ukraine.
Melitopol has been occupied since early March. Seizing it would give Kyiv an opportunity to disrupt Russia’s supply lines between the southern and eastern Donbas, the two main areas where Moscow-backed forces hold territory.
“Remnants of occupiers and sabotage groups are being discovered, collaborators are being detained, and full security is being restored,” he said, adding that border forces was sent to guard the “state borders in the liberated territory”.
“It’s very important that together with our military, with our flag, normal, normal life moves into the occupied territory,” he said.
The country’s officials have been abuzz, releasing footage showing their forces burning Russian flags and examining abandoned, charred tanks.
In one video, border guards tore up a poster that read: “We are one people with Russia.”
British intelligence reports said one of Russia’s leading forces, the 1st Guards Tank Army, was “severely degraded” during the invasion, along with conventional Russian forces being designed to counter NATO.
“It will probably take years for Russia to rebuild this capability,” the officials said.
Abbas Gallyamov, an independent Russian political analyst and former speechwriter for Putin, said the step back could increase Russia’s interest in peace talks.
But even when Putin came to the negotiating table, President Zelenskyy made it clear that Russia must return all of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimea, Gallyamov said.
Experts also warn that momentum has shifted back and forth before, and Ukraine’s allies have been careful not to declare a victory too soon, as Russian President Vladimir Putin still has troops and resources available.
In Washington, President Biden told reporters that it was clear the Ukrainians had made “significant progress”.
However, he stopped short of saying that recent successes mark a turning point in the battle, saying that “the question is unanswerable, it is difficult to say”.
“I think it’s going to be a long way,” he added.
In the face of the biggest defeat since the attempt to capture Kyiv at the beginning of the war, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the army was fighting back with “massive attacks” in all areas.
But there were no immediate reports of a sudden increase in Russian attacks.
Following the apparent retreat, Ukrainian authorities entered several areas to investigate alleged Russian military practices against civilians.
The consolidation of territorial gains comes as the US state department reveals more than £260 million has been secretly spent by Russia to try to influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen countries. since 2014.
The department took the unusual step of releasing a diplomatic cable signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday to numerous US embassies and consulates abroad, many of them in Europe. Africa and South Asia, raising concerns.
The cable, marked as “sensitive” and not intended for foreign audiences but unclassified, contains a series of points that American diplomats were instructed to raise to the host government about the allegation. Russia intervenes.