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Russian forces withdraw from key areas in Kharkiv region

Update : 11 Sep 2022, 10:30

Russian troops are withdrawing from key areas of Ukraine's Kharkiv region, including the strategically important city of Izium, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday.

In its first public statement on the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv region, the ministry announced that it would withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian cities of Balakliia and Izium.

"In order to achieve the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate the Donbas, it has been decided to regroup the Russian troops stationed in the districts of Balakliia and Izium," said Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Defense Ministry.

Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-appointed head of Ukraine's Kharkiv region, recommended people of the region to evacuate to Russia to "save lives," according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Ganchev also said refugees would be provided with food, heat and medical care, according to TASS. 

Here's a look at some of the other major news stories from Russia's war in Ukraine on September 10. 

Ukrainian forces said they had entered the town of Kupiansk in Kharkiv region, as a collapse in Russia's frontline threatened to turn into a rout.

Ukrainian special forces published images on social media, which they said showed their officers "in Kupiansk." The town "was and will always be Ukrainian," the statement added.

Kupiansk is the key supply hub that had been held by invading Russian forces for several months. The town was captured by Russian forces less than one week after Moscow launched its full-scale of invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy added in a video address Saturday that Ukrainian forces had taken back around 2,000 square kilometers (700 square miles) of territory since Ukrainian forces launched a counter-offensive against Russia earlier this month.

The Ukrainian army in recent days has been pushing deeper into the east of the country. Officials say the offensive has liberated some 30 towns and villages in the northeastern region of Kharkiv. 

The complete capture of Kupiansk by Ukrainian forces would pose a serious problem for Moscow as the town sits on supply routes towards other Russian positions on the eastern front line.

They include Izium, with an estimated pre-war population of around 45,000 people, which has served as an important staging ground for Russian military operations.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops along the southern front line in some regions are advancing dozens of kilometers into territory captured by Russian troops at the beginning of the invasion, a military spokeswoman said.

The lead elements of Ukrainian forces have advanced up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) into previously Russian-held territory on a narrow front in Kharkiv region, Britain said in its latest intelligence report, as the Ukrainian counteroffensive is unfolding.

"Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns," the UK Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter.

It added that a Russian force around Izium is likely increasingly isolated, and Ukrainian units are now threatening the town of Kupiansk. "Its capture would be a significant blow to Russia because it sits on supply routes to the Donbas front line," the intelligence report said.

The UK Defense Ministry also emphasized that Ukrainian operations are also continuing in Kherson, meaning that the Russian defensive front is under pressure on both its northern and southern flanks.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials shared photos showing troops raising the nation's flag over the city of Kupiansk, as a collapse in Russia's frontline threatened to turn into a rout.

Natalia Popova, adviser to the head of the Kharkiv regional council, shared photos on Facebook of troops in front of Kupiansk city hall with a message: "Kupiansk is Ukraine. Glory to the Armed Forces of Ukraine".

Moscow admits losses
In a rare acknowledgment of losses on the Russian front line, a Moscow-installed regional official said on Friday that previously Russian-held territory in the east has changed hands after a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

"The enemy is being delayed as much as possible, but several settlements have already come under the control of Ukrainian armed formations," Vitaly Ganchev, head of the Russian-backed administration in the Kharkiv region, said on state television.

This was confirmed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said his troops have recaptured more than 30 towns and villages in the eastern Kharkiv region. Zelenskyy added that fighting in the eastern Donbas region and the south continued unabated.

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were carrying out active engagements in several areas. "They are doing so successfully," he said in a video address on Friday.

Vitaly Ganchev said his administration was trying to evacuate civilians from cities, including Izium.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, said in a YouTube video that the Russian defenders in Izium were almost isolated.

Videos released by Ukraine showed troops well inside territory that was previously held by Russia, including the city of Kupiansk, previously more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) inside Russia's front line.

Western military experts have said this development could be a sign of turning tides and essentially mean the disruption of the Russian supply lines to the east.

"We see success in Kherson now, we see some success in Kharkiv and so that is very, very encouraging," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Prague.

Russia meanwhile said that reinforcements are en route to Kharkiv.

Ukrainian officials have exhumed two bodies in the village of Grakove as part of an investigation into possible war crimes by Russian troops, according to the AFP news agency.

The exhumation in the Kharkiv region was carried out by Ukrainian officials and the regional police in the presence of journalists.

Village resident Sergiy Lutsay told journalists that he was forced to bury the two bodies by Russian soldiers toward the beginning of the Russian invasion in February. He added that the unidentified victims looked to be in their 30s.

The prosecutor's office will proceed with the case after the autopsies are done.

The situation at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is increasingly becoming critical as fresh shelling near the facility caused a blackout severely compromising its safety, the UN atomic watchdog said on Friday.

"Shelling has caused a complete blackout in Energodar (town) and compromised the safe operation of the nearby Zaporizhzhia (plant)," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said on Twitter.

"This is completely unacceptable. It cannot stand," he added.

Meanwhile, reports emerging from Europe's largest nuclear power facility say Russian troops controlling the station have killed two staff at the Zaporizhzhia facility and detained and abused dozens of others.

"Two people were beaten to death. We do not know whereabouts of 10 people now, they were taken [by the Russians] and after that we have no information about their whereabouts," Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's nuclear energy agency, said Friday.

He added that about 200 people had been detained.

"The Russians look for pro-Ukrainian people and persecute them. People are psychologically broken," he said.

A 14-member mission sent by the IAEA last week in its report called for "the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone" around the plant as it faces an "untenable" situation.

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