Zelenskyy announces breakthrough in Ukraine’s east and south

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said troops had “liberated dozens of settlements” and reclaimed more than 1,000 square kilometres (385 square miles) of territory in the Kharkiv region in the east as well as in Kherson in the south over the past week.

Zelenskyy on Friday posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers announcing they had captured the eastern town of Balakliia, south of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The Ukrainian military said it had advanced nearly 50km (31 miles) through that front after an assault that appeared to take the Russians by surprise.

The Ukrainian general staff said early on Friday that retreating Russian forces were trying to evacuate wounded personnel and damaged military equipment near Kharkiv.

“Thanks to skilful and coordinated actions, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with the support of the local population, advanced almost 50km in three days,” he said.

The surprise Ukrainian breakthrough in the east came a week after Kyiv announced the start of a long-awaited counteroffensive hundreds of kilometres away at the other end of the front line, in Kherson province in the south.

The Ukrainian breakthrough near Kharkiv was the fastest advance reported by either side for months, and one of the biggest shifts in the war’s momentum since Russian forces abandoned a disastrous assault on the capital Kyiv in March.

Such rapid advances have largely been unheard of since Russia abandoned its assault on Kyiv in March, shifting the war mainly into a relentless grind along entrenched front lines.

Western military analysts said the advance puts the Ukrainians within striking distance of the main railway Moscow has relied on to sustain its force in eastern Ukraine, and could leave thousands of Russian troops at risk of being cut off.