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Ukrainians retake annexed city

Loss angers war’s critics inside Russia by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | October 2, 2022 at 8:52 a.m.
A man drives a motorbike on a destroyed bridge across the Oskil River on Saturday during an evacuation in the recently liberated town of Kupiansk, Ukraine. More photos at arkansasonline.com/ukrainemonth8/. (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)


KYIV, Ukraine -- After being encircled by Ukrainian forces, Russia pulled troops out Saturday from an eastern Ukrainian city that it had been using as a front-line hub. It was the latest victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive that has angered the Kremlin.

Russia's withdrawal from Lyman complicates its internationally vilified declaration just a day earlier that it had annexed four regions of Ukraine -- an area that includes Lyman. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into land that Moscow now illegally claims as its own.

"The Ukrainian flag is already in Lyman, Donetsk region. Fighting is still going on there. But there is no trace of any pseudo-referendum there," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Saturday.

He was referring to "referendums" that Russia held at gunpoint in the four regions before annexing them -- Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

The fighting comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin's war. Facing Ukrainian gains on the battlefield -- which he frames as a U.S.-orchestrated effort to destroy Russia -- Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Russia's Defense Ministry claimed to have inflicted damage on Ukrainian forces in battling to hold Lyman, but said outnumbered Russian troops were withdrawn to more favorable positions. Ukrainian forces moved into the city, and Zelenskyy's chief of staff posted photos of a Ukrainian flag being hoisted on the town's outskirts.

Lyman had been an important link in the Russian front line for ground communications and logistics. Located 100 miles southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, it's in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk, two regions that Russia annexed Friday.

Ukrainian forces have retaken vast swaths of territory in a counteroffensive that started in September. They have pushed Russian forces out of the Kharkiv area and moved east across the Oskil River.

Moscow's withdrawal from Lyman prompted immediate criticism from some Russian officials. The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, blamed the retreat, without evidence, on one Russian general being "covered up for by higher-up leaders in the General Staff." He called for "more drastic measures."

Meanwhile, on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula, the governor of the city of Sevastopol announced an emergency situation at an airfield there.

Explosions and huge billows of smoke could be seen by beachgoers in the Russian-held resort. Authorities said a plane rolled off the runway at the Belbek airfield, and said ammunition on board had caught fire.

Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in violation of international law.

Russian bombardment has intensified in recent days as Moscow moved swiftly with its latest annexation and ordered a mass mobilization at home to bolster its forces. The Russian call-up has proved unpopular at home, prompting tens of thousands of Russian men to flee the country.

Zelenskyy and his military have vowed to keep fighting to liberate the regions that Putin claimed to have annexed Friday, and other Russian-occupied areas.

Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of targeting two humanitarian convoys in recent days, killing dozens of civilians.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said 24 civilians were killed in an attack this week on a convoy trying to flee the Kupiansk district. He called it "cruelty that can't be justified." He said 13 children and a pregnant woman were among the dead.

"The Russians fired at civilians almost at point-blank range," Syniehubov wrote on Telegram.

The Security Service of Ukraine, the secret police force, posted photographs of the attacked convoy.

At least one truck appeared to have been blown up, with burned corpses in what remained of its truck bed. Another vehicle at the front of the convoy was torched. Bodies lay on the side of the road or still inside vehicles that were pockmarked with bullet holes.

Russia's Defense Ministry said its rockets destroyed Ukrainian military targets in the area but has not commented on accusations that it targeted fleeing civilians. Russian troops have retreated from much of the Kharkiv region but continue to shell the area.

A Russian strike in the Zaporizhzhia region's capital killed 31 people and wounded 88, Ukrainian officials said. The British Defense Ministry said the Russians "almost certainly" struck a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces but gave no evidence.

In other fighting reported Saturday, four people were killed by Russian shelling Friday in the Donetsk region, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

The Russian army struck the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv twice overnight, once with drones and the second time with missiles, according to the regional governor.

Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine in what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called "the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War."

In other developments, in an apparent attempt to secure Moscow's hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized Friday the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, according to the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov's car, blindfolded him and took him to an undisclosed location.

Russia did not comment on the report. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Russia told it that "the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily detained to answer questions."

The Vienna-based agency stated it "has been actively seeking clarifications and hopes for a prompt and satisfactory resolution of this matter."

The power plant has been caught in the crossfire of the war. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure amid ongoing shelling nearby.

PIPELINE LEAK STOPPED

The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency stated Saturday on Twitter that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany.

"This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased," the Danish Energy Agency stated.

Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives.

Putin accused Friday the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.

The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipelines attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that "Anglo-Saxons" in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to "terror attacks," sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to "destroy the European energy infrastructure."

In Washington, President Joe Biden dismissed Putin's pipeline claims as outlandish.

"It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom [of] precisely what happened," Biden promised. "Just don't listen to what Putin's saying. What he's saying we know is not true."

European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.

The U.S. has long opposed the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increased Europe's energy dependence on Russia and decreased its security.

Since the war in Ukraine began in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories. European leaders have accused Putin of using "energy blackmail" to divide them in their strong support for Ukraine.

The attacks on the pipelines have prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up security around energy infrastructure.

BORDER TRAFFIC SLOWS

Fewer Russians have crossed into neighbouring countries in recent days, according to local authorities, despite persistent anxiety over the partial mobilization the Kremlin launched less than two weeks ago to bolster its forces fighting in Ukraine.

The mass exodus of Russian men -- alone or with their families or friends -- began Sept. 21, shortly after Putin announced the partial call-up of reservists.

The Kremlin has said it plans to call-up some 300,000 people, but Russian media reported that the number could be as high as 1.2 million, a claim that Russian officials have denied.

Russia's Defense Ministry has promised to draft only those who have combat or service experience, but according to multiple media reports and human-rights advocates, men who don't fit the criteria are also being rounded up, including protesters.

Over 194,000 Russians had entered Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland by Tuesday. It wasn't possible to discern how many of them fled the military call-up and how many traveled for other reasons, but the numbers were much higher than those before the call-up.

According to officials from all three countries, by the end of the week the influx had decreased.

It was not clear if this was related to the temporary military recruitment centers that Russian authorities hastily set up along land borders or to the policy of turning men away from the borders, citing mobilization laws.

On Friday, Finland barred Russians with tourist visas from entering the country and only 1,688 Russians were able to cross by land into the Nordic country that day, according to the Finnish Border Guard.

Georgia saw fewer Russians entering, too: only 6,109 between Thursday and Friday, the country's Interior Ministry reported.

The decrease of the flow of Russians to Georgia, which together with Kazakhstan comprised two most popular destinations for those crossing by land, also may have to do with restrictions. But officials in Kazakhstan noted a decrease in numbers as well, even though no official restrictions have been enforced on either side of its border with Russia.

The Kazakh Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov pointed Saturday to a "persistent downward trend" in the number of Russians entering the country: only 14,100 crossed into Kazakhstan on Friday It wasn't immediately clear what caused the numbers to drop.

Zelenskyy formally applied Friday for NATO membership, upping the pressure on Western allies to defend Ukraine.

In Washington, Biden signed a bill that provides another infusion -- more than $12.3 billion -- in military and economic aid linked to the war in Ukraine.

Information for this article was contributed by Jon Gambrell, Adam Schreck and staff members of The Associated Press.

  photo  A woman poses for a photo session at the Dnipro riverbank in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  People walk along an urban beach at one of the Dnipro riverbanks in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  FILE - This handout photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Aug. 7, 2022, shows a general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s nuclear power provider says Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant hours after Moscow illegally annexed a swath of Ukrainian territory. In a possible attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
 
 
  photo  People place Ukrainian flags in memory of civilians killed during the war at the Independence square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  A woman poses for a photo session at the Dnipro riverbank in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  U.N. officials arrive to the cargo ship Med Island, which came from Ukraine loaded with grain, for inspection while it is anchored in the Marmara Sea in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
 
 
  photo  Children play at the Dnipro riverbank in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
 
 
  photo  A woman receives humanitarian aid provided by Globee International organisation in recently liberated town Kupiansk, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 
  photo  EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - A local man rides his bicycle past the dead body of a Russian serviceman in the recently liberated town of Kupiansk, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
 
 


  photo  Ukrainian soldiers clean the muzzle of a howitzer D-30 near Siversk in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Saturday. (AP/Inna Varenytsia)
 
 



 Gallery: Images from Ukraine and Russia, month 8



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