Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his forces have recaptured 6,000sq km (2,320sq miles) of territory from Russia in a counteroffensive this month, marking Moscow’s worst defeat in the near seven-month-old war.
“Since the start of September, our soldiers have already liberated 6,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory in the east and south, and we are moving further,” Zelenskyy said in his daily address on Monday.
Ukrainian troops made more gains on Monday, pushing all the way to the northeastern border in some places, and claiming to have captured many Russian soldiers as part of a lightning advance that forced Moscow to make a hasty retreat.
“In some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border with the Russian Federation,” said Oleh Synyehubov, governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region.
A spokesperson for Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian troops were surrendering en masse as “they understand the hopelessness of their situation.” A Ukrainian presidential adviser said there were so many prisoners of war (POWs) that the country was running out of space to accommodate them.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich did not specify the number of Russian prisoners but said the POWs would be exchanged for Ukrainian soldiers held by Moscow. Military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov said the captured troops included “significant” numbers of Russian officers.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that while it was still early days in the counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces had made “significant progress.”
“What they have done is very methodically planned out and of course it’s benefited from significant support from the United States and many other countries in terms of making sure that Ukraine has in its hands the equipment it needs to prosecute this counteroffensive,” Blinken said during a news conference in Mexico.
As blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered over newly liberated towns, the Ukrainian military said it had freed more than 20 settlements in 24 hours.
In recent days, Kyiv’s forces have captured territory at least twice the size of greater London, according to the British Defence Ministry.