Russian forces withdrew from Lyman, a strategic city for its operations in the east, Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday, just a day after Moscow’s annexation of the region declared illegal by the West.
“In connection with creating a threat of encirclement, Allied forces were withdrawn from the Krasny Liman settlement to more advantageous lines,” the ministry said on Telegram, using the Russian name for the city of Lyman.
The withdrawal marks Ukraine’s most significant victory since last month’s successful counter-offensive in the northeastern region of Kharkov.
Russia’s announcement comes just hours after Ukrainian troops said they had surrounded Russian troops in the city, which is in Donetsk’s Kramatorsk district.
According to Serhii Cherevatyi, the military spokesman for the eastern group of Ukrainian troops, Ukrainian troops said earlier Saturday that they had entered Stavky, a village next to Lyman.
“The Russian group near Lyman is surrounded. The settlements of Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve and Stavky are liberated. Stabilization measures are underway there,” Cherevatyi said during a televised press conference on Saturday morning.
“[The liberation] of Lyman is important because it is another step towards the liberation of the Ukrainian Donbas. This is an opportunity to move on to Kreminna and Severodonetsk. Therefore, in turn, it is very important psychologically,” he said.
Cherevatyi said the actions of Ukrainian forces set the tone to “break the course of these hostilities”.
He added that there were “many dead and injured”, but could not provide further details.
The head of Luhansk’s regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, also revealed more details of the Lyman offensive on Saturday, suggesting that Russian troops had offered to withdraw, but to no avail on the Ukrainian side.
“Residents asked [their command] for the option to withdraw, and they were refused. Accordingly, they have two options. No, they actually have three options. Try to break through, surrender or everyone will die,” Hayday said.
“There are several thousand of them. Yes, about 5,000. There is not yet an exact number. Five thousand is still a colossal grouping. There has never been such a large group in the encirclement. All routes for the supply of ammunition or the group’s withdrawal are all completely blocked,” he added.
Ukrainian MP and deputy head of the Parliamentary National Security Committee, Yurii Mysiagin, referred to the move to Stavky on Saturday by posting a video on Telegram showing a Ukrainian tank driving onto the road with a clear sign indicating the Stavky region. CNN could not independently verify the original source or date.
A video posted to social media and shared by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff shows two Ukrainian soldiers standing on a military vehicle and taped the flag to a large sign with the word “Lyman.”
“We are rolling out the flag of our country and planting it on our land. Men only. Everything will be Ukraine,” one of the soldiers tells the camera.
On Friday, Ukrainian forces claimed control of the village of Drobysheve, in the Donetsk region, the settlement bordering Russian-occupied Lyman.
Meanwhile, the director-general of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was detained on Saturday by a Russian patrol, the president of state nuclear company Energoatom said.
Director General Ihor Murashov was in his vehicle on the way out of the factory when he “was stopped… taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded, he was driven in an unknown direction. For now, there is no information about his fate,” Energoatom’s Petro Kotin said in a statement.
“Murashov is licensed and bears primary and exclusive responsibility for the nuclear and radiation safety of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” Kotin said, adding that his detention “endangers the safety of the operation of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.” .”
Kotin called for Murashov’s release and urged the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to “take all possible immediate measures to extricate him as a matter of urgency”.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has “firmly” condemned Murashov’s “illegal detention”, calling it a “new display of state terrorism on the part of Russia and a gross violation of international law”.
“We call on the international community, in particular the UN, the IAEA and the G7, to take decisive action in this regard as well,” the ministry said in a statement.
The developments come as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Friday that Russia would occupy nearly a fifth of Ukraine, declaring that the millions of people living there would be Russian citizens forever.
As part of the annexation process, which the West considers illegal, Moscow now recognizes four Ukrainian regions as Russian territory: Luhansk and Donetsk — home to two Russian-backed breakaway republics that have been fighting since 2014 — as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhya. two areas in southern Ukraine that have been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began.