KHARKIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops piled pressure on retreating Russian forces Tuesday, pressing deeper into occupied territory and sending more Kremlin troops fleeing ahead of the counteroffensive that has inflicted a stunning blow on Moscow’s military prestige.
As the advance continued, Ukraine’s border guard services said the army took control of Vovchansk — a town just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Russia seized on the first day of the war. Russia acknowledged that it has withdrawn troops from areas in the northeastern region of Kharkiv in recent days.
Russian troops were also pulling out from the southern city of Melitopol, the second-largest city in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, the city’s pre-occupation mayor said. His claim could not immediately be verified.
Melitopol has been under Russian occupation since early March. Capturing it would give Kyiv the opportunity to disrupt Russian supply lines between the south and the eastern Donbas region, the two major areas where Moscow-backed forces hold territory.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov wrote on Telegram that the Russian troops were heading toward Moscow-annexed Crimea. He said columns of military equipment were reported at a checkpoint in Chonhar, a village marking the boundary between the Crimean peninsula and the Ukrainian mainland.
In the newly freed village of Chkalovske in the Kharkiv region, Svitlana Honchar said Russians’ departure was sudden and swift.
“They left like the wind,” Honchar said Tuesday after loading cans of food aid into her car. “They were fleeing by any means they could.”
Some Russians appeared to have been left behind in the hasty retreat. “They were trying to catch up,” she said.
It was not yet clear if the Ukrainian blitz, which unfolded after months of little discernible movement, could signal a turning point in the nearly seven-month war.
But the country’s officials were buoyant, releasing footage showing their forces burning Russian flags and inspecting abandoned, charred tanks. In one video, border guards tore down a poster that read, “We are one people with Russia.”
Momentum has switched back and forth before, and Ukraine’s American allies were careful not to declare a premature victory since Russian President Vladimir Putin still has troops and resources to tap.
In the face of Russia’s largest defeat since its botched attempt to capture Kyiv early in the war, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said troops were hitting back with “massive strikes” in all sectors.
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