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A Ukrainian counteroffensive began this week “with the aim of restoring the lost territories” from Russia’s invasion, according to a top Ukraine military official.
So far, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claims the country’s military has retaken more than 1,000 square kilometers of territory since the beginning of the month as forces continue to press on in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.
Here are the other top headlines to know:
- Ukraine's progress: As Ukrainian forces take swathes of territory in the Kharkiv region, they are also claiming successes in the southern region of Kherson. But, according to Natalia Humeniuk, the spokesperson for the defense forces in the south, Russian forces continued to strike from the air. Zelensky also said Ukraine has taken control of more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region.
- Pushback from Moscow: The Russian Ministry of Defense Thursday claimed that Ukrainian forces had abandoned their positions in two locations on the border between Kherson and Mykolaiv regions due to heavy casualties. Additionally, a Russian military journalist in the Kharkiv region has reported on the arrival of reinforcements around two key locations currently under threat by advancing Ukrainian forces.
- Russian desertion: The Ukrainian military claimed that desertion among Russian forces is increasing in the southern Kherson region. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that in one town close to Crimea, the Russians had used helicopters “to search for fugitives and return them to combat positions.” The military also said some Russian soldiers in the Kharkiv region have abandoned their uniforms, hoping to blend in while wearing civilian clothing.
- Top US diplomat departs after visit: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday the ongoing counteroffensive was “proving effective” and “we’re seeing clear and real progress on the ground” in its early days. Blinken also announced $2.2 billion will be made available to Ukraine and 18 nearby nations for long-term security measures against future threats from Russia.
- Warning from the IAEA: The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a dire warning urgently calling for the immediate cessation of shelling in the area surrounding the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant due to the risk of a “nuclear accident.” An IAEA team visited the plant at the beginning of the month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that offensive actions by the country's armed forces continue "successfully" in several directions.
"As of now, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have liberated and taken control of more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region," Zelensky said in his daily video message.
"Measures to check and secure the territory in some villages of the region are ongoing; we are gradually taking control of new settlements. We are returning the Ukrainian flag and protection for all our people everywhere," he said.
Zelensky also appealed to "some bloggers," as he put it, "not to complicate the task for our army with your haste. Please do not report the specific details of the defense operation earlier than the official representatives of our state."
Zelensky singled out the 14th Separate Mechanized Brigade for its contribution to the Kharkiv offensive, as well as marines of the 503rd Naval Infantry Battalion "for their courage in Donetsk region."
Several elected deputies in the St. Petersburg area have been summoned by police after calling for the impeachment of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a rare display of dissent in Russia, the local deputies from the Smolninskoye municipality appealed to the Russian Duma to impeach Putin for what they called crimes of high treason.
The author of the appeal, Dmitry Palyuga, posted it on Twitter, alleging Putin was responsible for: "(1) the decimation of young able-bodied Russian men who would serve the workforce better than the military; (2) Russia’s economic downturn and brain drain; (3) NATO’s expansion eastward, including adding Finland and Sweden to “double” its border with Russia; (4) the opposite effect of the 'special military operation' in Ukraine."
Palyuga and fellow deputy Nikita Yuferev later posted on Twitter a summons issued to them by the St. Petersburg police for “discrediting of the ruling establishment.”
Palyuga later reported that two of the four deputies summoned have been released by the police and all are expected to face fines.
A Russian military journalist in the Kharkiv region has reported on the arrival of reinforcements around two key locations currently under threat by advancing Ukrainian forces.
The reporter, Yevgeniy Poddubny, showed video on his Telegram channel of transport helicopters arriving in the eastern region, with at least one seen unloading an armored vehicle.
"For the redeployment of reserve troops to Kupiansk and Izium, the Russian military HQ is using Mi-26 helicopters, taking troops and armored vehicles for reinforcement of Russian military units in Kharkiv Oblast," he said in the video.
"The helicopters are dropping in at landing points all along the line of contact. ...The reinforcements will help to stop any further advance of the Kyiv regime," he said.
Ukrainian forces are on the western outskirts of the city of Kupiansk and have also struck south toward Izium after launching a sudden offensive at the beginning of the week.
In a later report, Poddubny said that "Kupiansk is still under enemy fire," adding, "our reserves are arriving at the front line. The air bridge has been active all day today."
On his Telegram, Poddubny said that as a result of Ukrainian action, the bridge across the Oskil River in Kupiansk was seriously damaged.
"The city is now under artillery strikes by the Ukrainian Armed Forces," he said.
"The defense of Kupiansk continues. Reserves continue to approach," he added.
Kupiansk is an important rail hub for Russian resupply. The town of Izium has been in Russian hands since April and is the launching point for attacks southward into the Donetsk region.
A senior US Defense Department official said the Ukrainian counteroffensive that began on Sept. 1 in the Kherson region has shown the Ukrainians have been “creative” in integrating military capabilities provided by the US and other countries in their operations.
“We’re watching the progress on the counteroffensive quite closely as you could imagine. ... I think we’ve seen some encouraging signs, certainly even in just the last day or two,” US Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker said Friday at a briefing with reporters, “but again, the Russians are a formidable adversary, and there’s a, I think, a long fight ahead.”
This is the first time the US Defense Department has called the Ukrainian operation a counteroffensive, a term previously avoided by department officials, including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleh Syniehubov, said he toured recently liberated areas of the region — and the "Russians left broken infrastructure and houses, many trophies and piles of garbage."
Syniehubov posted photographs of his tour on his Telegram channel.
"People, without exaggeration, met our soldiers with tears in their eyes....Residents, of course, need help. Most villages do not have electricity or gas. In the near future, we will restore them and bring in humanitarian aid," he said.
"But the first thing is cleansing and demining," Syniehubov said. "For those who have left, we do not recommend returning until the relevant orders of the military."
He also issued a warning to those who had collaborated with the occupation.
"No traitor will escape responsibility. Today, the head of one of the villages of the de-occupied community, who collaborated with the enemy, was detained," he said.
"The most important thing: thanks to our Armed Forces, there are already Ukrainian flags everywhere!" Syniehubov said.
The Ukrainian military has claimed that desertion among Russian forces is increasing in the southern Kherson region in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in an operational update Friday, said that "due to significant losses and unwillingness to fight, the morale and psychological condition of the occupation units is significantly deteriorating and the number of deserters is increasing."
It did not provide specific evidence for the claim.
The General Staff said that in one town close to Crimea, the Russians had used helicopters "to search for fugitives and return them to combat positions."
Elsewhere, it said Ukrainian units had blocked several enemy attacks in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, away from the area where a Ukrainian advance continues.
It also said Ukrainian combat planes had carried out more than 10 strikes in both Donetsk and the south.
The Ukrainian Air Force appears to have been more active in recent weeks, thanks to the acquisition of US missiles capable of seeking out and destroying Russian air defense units.
Separately, the military's Operational Command South said Ukrainian units continued to suppress "concentration of manpower and combat equipment, the pontoon crossing in the Darivka area and the temporary bridge in the Nova Kakhovka area," which the Russians have erected to try to resupply forces on the west bank of the Dnipro river.
Ukrainian forces have continued to advance deep into Russian-occupied parts of Kharkiv region in the country's northeast, according to multiple social media videos as well as accounts from both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian social media channels.
The Russian 202nd motorized rifle regiment, "located in the Kharkiv region, withdrew from their positions and moved to the nearest forest. The unit was left without commanders and communications," Ukrainian intelligence said.
Ukrainian forces have advanced more than 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) eastwards into Russian-held territory across a widening front, threatening to cut off Russian forces to the south around Izium.
Russian soldiers were "calling to relatives with requests to contact the command and find out where they should go next. Some of them ask their wives to contact the hotlines of the Ministry of Defense of Russia and the Red Cross with the demand to remove them from the territory of Ukraine," the Intelligence Directorate claimed.
It provided no evidence for the assertion.
The Directorate said the Russians had sued flamethrowers in an effort to stay the Ukrainian advance but "suffered serious losses, left their positions and retreated in small groups."
"Due to the lack of logistics, they are retreating in a disorganized manner."
The Directorate also claimed that the "237th Guards Airborne Assault Regiment of the Russian Federation ceased to exist due to the death or injury of all servicemen."
A pro-Russian Telegram channel called the Kharkiv People's Republic said that a "really large force" of Russian reserves had been deployed and "were able to repel an attack by the AFU [Ukrainian forces] on Horokhovatka and prevent the cutting of the Izium - Borova bridge."
It acknowledged fighting in the area and suggested that Ukrainian forces were advancing south towards Izium.
The channel said that civilians were being evacuated from both Izium, which has been the main hub for the Russian assault southwards into Donetsk region since April. The evacuation of civilians from Kupyansk, a critical point for Russian resupply, was also continuing, it said.
"The Russian Armed Forces are preparing for defenses and a possible siege of the settlements," it said.
The channel also acknowledged that a Russian command post had been hit and a bridge disabled near Kupyansk.
It concluded that "the most optimistic scenario for the [Russian] Armed Forces command is the creation of an encirclement" of Ukrainian forces but added that the Ukrainian tactic of using small, manoeuvrable groups had been effective, adding that if they "manage to gain a foothold, it will be much more difficult to recapture the seized territories."
Through geolocation and the statements of the Ukrainian military, independent analysts and Russian military bloggers, it's estimated that Ukrainian forces have taken well over 400 square kilometers of territory this week in the Kharkiv region.