Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday admitted its forces had retreated from key towns in northeastern Ukraine after a stunning advance by Ukrainian troops.
The Defense Ministry said it had pulled forces out of the village of Balakliya and the strategically crucial city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region, after a decision to “regroup” and transfer them to Donetsk in the south.”
The retreat represents one of the biggest setbacks for Russia since President Vladimir V. Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
“In order to achieve the goals of the special military operation, a decision was made to regroup troops in the areas of Balakliya and Izyum in order to build up efforts in the Donetsk direction,” the Russian military statement said.
Although Russian officials sought to spin the developments — saying “a powerful fire was inflicted on the enemy using aviation, missile troops and artillery” as they withdrew — it was clear their troops were retreating to avoid being encircled. Ukrainian officials said the Russians had left behind equipment and ammunition.
Earlier, the commander leading Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Ukraine had full control of Balakliya and also controlled part of Kupyansk, an important strategic rail hub seen as crucial to Russia’s war effort in the region.