Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announces that his country's army has retaken around "2,000 kilometres of territory" from Russian forces in September.

Observers of the conflict expect Ukrainian forces to announce further gains in the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia, and has been either controlled by Russia or shelled by its artillery for months.
Observers of the conflict expect Ukrainian forces to announce further gains in the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia, and has been either controlled by Russia or shelled by its artillery for months. (AFP)

Ukraine's military says it has entered a key logistics hub in Kharkiv in a lightning counter-offensive that has also forced Russian troops to pull back from two areas in the northeastern region, where Kiev's army has made significant advances in the past week.

Ukrainian special forces on Saturday published images on social media showing camouflage-clad officers with automatic weapons in Kupiansk town in Kharkiv. It "was and will always be Ukrainian," their statement said.

The town of some 27,000 people, which sits on a crucial supply route for Russian forces, fell within the first week after the Kremlin ordered its offensive against Ukraine on February 24.

As Ukraine announced fresh gains, Russia said it was pulling forces out of the towns of Balakliia and Izyum — also in Kharkiv.

Balakliia and Izyum are at crucial points on the supply routes for its campaign in the eastern Donbass region.

Ukraine had already claimed the capture of Balakliia, advancing into Russian-held areas south of Kharkiv, which is Ukraine's second-largest city.

And on Saturday, the Ukrainian president's chief of staff posted photos of Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Izyum, which was a major base for Russian forces in the region.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine's army had recaptured around "2,000 kilometres of territory" in September. 

Late Friday, he had said his troops had retaken some 30 towns and villages in the Kharkiv region as part of the sweep.

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Russia 'regroups' troops

Ukraine's push appears to have caught Russian troops largely off guard.

"In order to achieve the stated goals of the Special Military Operation to liberate the Donbass, it has been decided to regroup the Russian troops stationed in the districts of Balakliia and Izyum," Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov said on the ministry's Telegram channel.

The defence ministry said the withdrawal of troops from Kharkiv to the eastern Donetsk region had been carried out over the course of a three-day operation designed to minimise Russian losses.

But in Donetsk, the Kremlin-backed leader of the separatist republic said there was fierce fighting between Russian forces and Ukraine.

Denis Pushilin said the situation in the town of Lyman was "very difficult" and that there was also fighting in "a number of other localities," particularly in the northern part of the region.

"We have no other choice but to keep Donbass and we'll succeed. We'll win of course," Pushilin said.

The reports followed several days of apparent advances by Ukraine's forces in the east, in what could become the biggest success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital of Kiev at the start of the nearly seven-month conflict.

"Ukrainian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, liberating more cities and villages. Their courage coupled with Western military support brings astonishing results," foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement on social media.

"It's crucial to keep sending arms to Ukraine. Defeating Russia on the battlefield means winning peace in Ukraine," he added.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies