Russian forces retreat amid Ukrainian counteroffensive

Ukraine Russia
Ukrainian soldiers attend their positions, in the Donetsk region in July.
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

By KARL RITTER and HANNA ARHIROVA Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops on Sunday successfully pressed their swift counteroffensive in the northeastern part of the country, even as a nuclear power plant in the Russia-occupied south completely shut down in a bid to prevent a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.

Kyiv’s action to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded, leaving behind significant numbers of weapons and munitions in a hasty retreat as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday.

A jubilant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mocked the Russians in a video address Saturday night, saying “the Russian army in these days is demonstrating the best that it can do — showing its back.”

He posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the national flag over Chkalovske, another town reclaimed in the counteroffensive.

Yuriy Kochevenko, of the 95th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, tweeted a video from what appeared to be the city center of Izyum. The city was considered an important command and supply hub for Russia’s northern front.

“Everything around is destroyed, but we will restore everything. Izyum was, is, and will be Ukraine,” Kochevenko said in his video, showing the empty central square and destroyed buildings.

While most attention was focused on the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was reconnected to Ukraine’s electricity grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor to safeguard the plant amid the fighting.

The plant, one of the 10 biggest atomic power stations in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for shelling around it.

Since a Sept. 5 fire caused by shelling knocked the plant off transmission lines, the reactor was powering crucial safety equipment in so-called “island mode” — an unreliable regime that left the plant increasingly vulnerable to a potential nuclear accident.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog that has two experts at the plant, welcomed the restoration of external power. But the agency’s director-general, Rafael Grossi, said he remains “gravely concerned about the situation at the plant, which remains in danger as long as any shelling continues.”

He said talks have begun on establishing a safety and security zone around the plant.

In a call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the withdrawal of Russian troops and weaponry from the plant in line with IAEA recommendations.

In fighting, Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyy, said its forces had recaptured about 1,160 square miles since the counteroffensive began in early September. He said Ukrainian troops are only about 30 miles from the Russian border.

Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control of more than 40 settlements in the region, noting he couldn’t give a precise number because the operation is still unfolding.

Widespread power outages were reported Sunday night by Ukrainian media, including in the regions of Kharkiv, Poltava, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Sumy. Officials in various regions said Russian forces had caused the outages by attacking infrastructure, knocking out electricity and water, with explosions preceding the outages.

Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov called the power outage “revenge by the Russian aggressor for the successes of our army at the front, in particular, in the Kharkiv region.”

Local officials said they were trying to repair the damage, and none of the outages were believed to be related to the shutdown of the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Defense Minister Anna Malyar said Ukrainian forces are firing shells containing propaganda into areas where they seek to advance.

”One of the ways of informational work with the enemy in areas where there is no Internet is launching propaganda shells,” she wrote on Facebook. “Before moving forward, our defenders say hello to the Russian invaders and give them the last opportunity to surrender. Otherwise, only death awaits them on Ukrainian soil.”

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