Ukrainian troops expanded their territorial gains Monday, pushing all the way to the country’s northeastern border in places, and claimed to have captured a record number of Russian soldiers as part of the lightning advance that forced Moscow to make a hasty retreat.
A spokesman 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 POWs that the country was running out of space to accommodate them.
Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered over newly liberated towns across a wide swath of reclaimed land. 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 Defense Ministry.
“In some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border with the Russian Federation,” said Oleh Syniehubov, governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region.
The counteroffensive left the Kremlin struggling for a response to its largest military defeat in Ukraine since Russian forces pulled back from areas near Kyiv after a botched attempt to capture the capital early in the invasion.
The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged the setback in a map that showed its troops pressed back along a narrow patch of land on the border with Russia — a tacit admission of big Ukrainian gains.
Sky News reports that chaos abounded as Russian troops pulled out.
“The Russians were here in the morning. Then at noon, they suddenly started shouting wildly and began to run away, charging off in tanks and armored vehicles,” Dmytro Hrushchenko, a resident of recently liberated Zaliznychne, a small town near the eastern front line.
Video taken by the Ukrainian military showed soldiers raising the Ukrainian flag over battle-damaged buildings. In one scene, a fighter wiped his boots on a Russian flag on the ground. Other videos showed Ukrainians inspecting the wreckage of Russian military vehicles, including tanks.
In his evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his forces have liberated more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) in the east and the south since the beginning of September.
Now Ukrainian teams are disarming land mines and other unexploded weapons in the recaptured areas and searching for any remaining Russian troops, officials said.
It was not yet clear if the Ukrainian blitz could signal a turning point in the war. Momentum has switched back and forth before, but rarely with such a big and sudden swing.