Russia’s defense ministry has announced the withdrawal of its troops from the areas in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region.
In a statement issued on the ministry’s Telegram channel on Saturday, defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said that troops would be regrouped from the Balakliya and Izyum areas of the Kharkiv region to the Donetsk region.
He went further to say that an operation was carried out within three days to curtail and organize the transfer of the Izyum-Balakliya group of troops to the territory of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.”
“During this operation, a number of diversionary and demonstration measures were carried out, indicating the real actions of the troops,” Konashenkov said.
The statement came days after Kyiv launched a lightning counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to recapture territory from Russian forces. The Ukrainian military has regained control over more than 1,000 square kilometers (386sq miles) of Ukrainian territory, including key towns of Izyum, Balakliya, and Kupiansk, which have been controlled by Russian forces for months.
Kupiansk in east Ukraine has been an important rail center used by Russia since it took control over it at the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine, while Izyum, a town with a pre-war population of about 45,000, has served as an important staging ground for Russian military operations.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops along the southern front line are advancing as far as dozens of kilometers into the Russia-captured territory, driving deep into Russian lines.
While Russia’s defense ministry and the Kremlin have not officially acknowledged Kyiv’s battlefield gains, Russian-controlled separatists from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in Ukraine confirmed that Russian troops had withdrawn from the city of Izyum.
“They left Izyum, as well as from some other settlements in the Kharkiv direction,” Daniil Bezsonov, the so-called First Deputy Minister of Information of the self-proclaimed DPR, wrote in his Telegram channel on Saturday.
“Of course, this is bad. Of course, this is the result of the mistakes of the high command. But there is no need to look for hidden meanings in this. It’s not about agreements and not about betrayal. We just fight as best we can.”
Russian forces launched a major assault on Ukraine on February 24. The invasion by land, air, and the sea began after a pre-dawn TV address where Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine’s military lay down its arms. The Russian president claimed that the “special military operation” was aimed at protecting the people of two self-proclaimed separatist-controlled regions of Ukraine allegedly being attacked by the Ukrainian military. The offensive was launched in several northern, eastern and southern directions as Russia tried to cripple the defense lines of the Ukrainian army quickly. However, the strong resistance of Ukraine’s military and civilians across the country foiled the blitzkrieg attempts of the Russian army.
Ukraine and Russia have been at odds since the 2014 crisis in Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions. Ukraine accuses Russia of annexing the Crimean Peninsula — a territory that extends into the Black Sea — and backing anti-government separatist regimes in the country’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.