Russia attacked the Ukrainian president’s hometown and other targets with suicide drones on Sunday, and Ukraine took back full control of a strategic eastern city in a counteroffensive that has reshaped the war.
Russia’s loss of the eastern city of Lyman, which it had been using as a transport and logistics hub, is a new blow to the Kremlin as it seeks to escalate the war by illegally annexing four regions of Ukraine and heightening threats to use nuclear force.
Russian president Vladimir Putin’s land grab has threatened to push the conflict to a dangerous new level. It also prompted Ukraine to formally apply for Nato membership, a bid that won backing from nine central and eastern European Nato members fearful that Russia’s aggression could eventually target them too.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Sunday that his forces now controlled Lyman: “As of 12.30pm (0930 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.
Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman, after announcing on Saturday that it was withdrawing its forces there to what it said were more favourable positions.
The British military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow, and Ukraine appeared to swiftly capitalise on its gains.
Hours after Mr Zelensky’s announcement, Ukrainian media shared an image of Ukrainian troops carrying the country’s yellow-and-blue flag in front of a statue marking the village of Torske, nine miles (15km) east of Lyman and within sight of the Russian-held Luhansk region.
Shortly later, a video posted online showed one Ukrainian soldier saying that Kyiv’s forces had begun to target the city of Kreminna, just across the border in Luhansk. Outgoing artillery could be heard in the background. Russian military correspondents also acknowledged Ukrainian attacks targeting Kreminna.
In another online photo, a Ukrainian soldier stood before a giant watermelon landmark just south of the village of Novovorontsovka on the banks of the Dnieper River, along the Russian-controlled province of Kherson’s northern edge. A Ukrainian flag flew above the statue as several apparently deactivated landmines lay beside it.
While Ukrainian forces did not immediately acknowledge a breakthrough, writers close to the Russian military have described a new offensive by Kyiv in the Kherson region.
In southern Ukraine, Mr Zelensky’s hometown of Krivyi Rih came under Russian attack by a suicide drone that destroyed two storeys of a school early on Sunday, the regional governor said.
The Ukrainian air force said on Sunday that it had shot down five Iranian-made drones overnight, while two others had made it through air defences.
Russian attacks also targeted the city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday. And Ukraine’s military said it had carried out strikes on multiple Russian command posts, ammunition depots and two S-300 anti-aircraft batteries.
The reports of military activity could not be immediately verified.
Ukrainian forces have retaken swathes of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Mr Putin’s war.
Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk, two of the four regions that Russia illegally annexed on Friday after forcing what was left of the population to vote in referendums at gunpoint.
In his nightly address, Mr Zelensky said: “Over the past week, there have been more Ukrainian flags in the Donbas. In a week there will be even more.”
In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the British Ministry of Defence called Lyman crucial because it has “a key road crossing over the Siversky Donets River, behind which Russia has been attempting to consolidate its defences”.
The Russian retreat from northeast Ukraine in recent weeks has revealed evidence of widespread, routine torture of both civilians and soldiers, notably in the strategic city of Izium, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Recent developments have raised fears of all-out conflict between Russia and the West.