Russia was this weekend facing its worst military battlefield defeat in 80 years, as chilling details emerged of fresh Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians.
Triumphant Ukrainian soldiers yesterday raised their country’s flag at the entrance to the strategically vital town of Lyman, just days after Vladimir Putin brazenly annexed four occupied Ukrainian regions.
Some of Putin’s troops are believed to be trapped in Lyman, a major logistics hub, after they were encircled by Ukraine’s lightning advance. They face having to surrender or fight their way out in a move that would probably see them suffer huge losses.
But the breakthrough in eastern Ukraine came as new reports of Russian atrocities emerged and fears grew that a humiliated Vladimir Putin could resort to using nuclear weapons. At least 24 civilians, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, were gunned down during a Russian attack on a road convoy, Ukraine claimed.
A volunteer places the body of killed people at a site of a civilian convoy, which Ukrainian State Security Service say was hit by a shelling of Russian troops amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near the village of Kurylivka in Kharkiv region
Triumphant Ukrainian soldiers yesterday raised their country’s flag at the entrance to the strategically vital town of Lyman, just days after Vladimir Putin brazenly annexed four occupied Ukrainian regions
Ukraine troops showed reporters a group of vehicles riddled with bullet holes and several corpses in civilian clothes near the recently recaptured town of Kupiansk in north-east Ukraine.
‘Russians fired on civilians at close range,’ regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.
The region’s prosecutor’s office said Russian troops had opened fire on a convoy of seven cars as civilians attempted to flee the fighting.
‘The car queue was shot by the Russian army on September 25, when civilians were trying to evacuate,’ a statement from the office said. ‘Two cars have burnt completely with children and their parents inside.’ Meanwhile, in comments that will stoke fears of even further horrors, Ramzan Kadyrov, one of Putin’s henchmen and the head of Russia’s region of Chechnya, yesterday said Moscow should consider using a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
In a message on Telegram criticising Russian commanders for abandoning Lyman, Kadyrov wrote: ‘In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.’ His disturbing comments came as:
l Air-raid warnings sounded in Kyiv yesterday as Ukraine braced for a barrage of missile attacks in retaliation for Russia’s losses in the east of the country;
l Russian forces ‘almost certainly’ struck a humanitarian convoy in the southern Zaporizhzhia region last Friday, according to the UK Ministry of Defence. At least 30 people in civilian vehicles were killed in the attack;
l The head of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was detained by Russian troops as part of an apparent plot to transfer the site to Russian energy firm Rosatam;
l Explosions were reported at a Russian air base in Crimea.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, yesterday said Russian units in Lyman are ‘surrounded’ and that villages around the town had been recaptured. Up to 5,500 Russian troops were previously in Lyman but the number trapped is unknown as some retreated, or were killed, before the encirclement.
Cars from a civilian convoy, which Ukrainian State Security Service say was hit by a shelling of Russian troops amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, are seen between occupied Svatove town in Luhansk region and Ukrainian-held town of Kupiansk
Mr Cherevatyi said that Ukrainian forces controlled most routes out of the city and some Russian attempts to break out ‘had not been very successful’. Russia’s defence ministry later said it had withdrawn its troops from the town.
A Russian government news agency announced: ‘In connection with the threat of encirclement the allied [Russian] forces were withdrawn from Lyman to more advantageous defences.’ Footage posted on social media by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s head of office Andriy Yermak showed Ukrainian soldiers raising their blue-and-yellow national flag on the edge of the town.
The town will now be used as a staging post as Kyiv attempts to advance into the Luhansk region.
Professor Michael Clarke, former director-general of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, said Russia had suffered its biggest battlefield setback since defeats to Nazi Germany in 1943.
‘They haven’t had a brigade-level defeat like this since the Second World War. They were defeated in Afghanistan but that was a guerrilla war.’
Prof Clarke said Kadyrov’s comments about nuclear weapons did not increase the likelihood that such devastating weapons will be used.
‘He is borderline insane. He thinks he has enormous influence in Russia – and he doesn’t. We are a long, long way from the use of tactical nuclear weapons.’
The United States has warned there would be ‘catastrophic consequences’ for Russia if it used nuclear weapons. A Ukrainian source close to the presidential administration said Ukraine believes that Putin would first use other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical weapons.
Ukraine’s retaking of Lyman comes after Moscow used rigged referendums to illegally seize Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine on Friday.
A western security source said that the annexation of the four Ukrainian regions and Kyiv’s battlefield successes ‘make this the most dangerous period of the conflict since it began last February’.