Russia withdraws troops after Ukraine encircles key city

  • A man drives by motorbike on a destroyed bridge across Oskil river during evacuation in recently liberated town Kupiansk, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

KYIV, Ukraine — After being encircled by Ukrainian forces, Russia pulled troops out Saturday from an eastern Ukrainian city that it had been using as a front-line hub. It was the latest victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive that has humiliated and angered the Kremlin.

Russia’s withdrawal from Lyman complicates its internationally vilified declaration just a day earlier that it had annexed four regions of Ukraine — an area that includes Lyman. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push further into land that Moscow now illegally claims as its own.

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“The Ukrainian flag is already in Lyman, Donetsk region. Fighting is still going on there. But there is no trace of any pseudo-referendum there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Saturday.

He was referring to “referendums” that Russia held at gunpoint in the four regions before annexing them — Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

The fighting comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. Facing Ukrainian gains on the battlefield — which he frames as a U.S.-orchestrated effort to destroy Russia — Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed to have inflicted damage on Ukrainian forces in battling to hold Lyman, but said outnumbered Russian troops were withdrawn to more favorable positions. Ukrainian forces moved into the city, and Zelenskyy’s chief of staff posted photos of a Ukrainian flag being hoisted on the town’s outskirts.

Lyman had been an important link in the Russian front line for ground communications and logistics.

Located 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, it’s in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk, two regions that Russia annexed Friday.

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