Ukraine’s armed forces said on Saturday they had “liberated” five settlements in the Donetsk region and surrounded thousands of Russian soldiers near the eastern town of Lyman.
“Russian troops in the Lyman area are surrounded. Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve and Stavky settlements are liberated. Stabilization measures are being carried out there,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, chairman of the Eastern group of troops, to a Ukrainian media outlet. reported Pravda.
The breakthrough comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a land grab not only for Donetsk, but also for the Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
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Putin warned that Russia will now treat any attack on the four regions as an attack on mainland Russia, calling Ukrainians still residing in the Russian war-torn regions “forever.”
But Ukrainian forces have been advancing west of Luhansk and north of Donetsk as they inch toward the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk, which Russia has occupied since June.
Cherevatyi said there were between 5,000 and 5,500 occupants in Lyman, but said it was difficult to estimate the number of troops in the areas surrounding the city due to the fluid movement of troops in combat zones.
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The spokesman said some Russian troops tried unsuccessfully to break through the Ukrainian roadblock near the town, while others had begun to surrender.
Taking Lyman would be a major strategic victory for Ukraine, but Cherevatyi said the fight to fully liberate the city was not over.
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Lyman has served as a major logistics and transportation hub for Russian forces and their operations north of Donetsk, Reuters reported.
Securing the city would be the biggest battlefield victory for Ukraine, as it forced Russian troops to withdraw from nearly the entire Kharkiv region in a major counteroffensive last month.