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Ukrainian forces liberated most of the Kharkiv region in a rapid counter-offensive

8,500 square kilometers were liberated from Russian occupation in one of the most significant events of the war since March, when the assault on Kyiv was repulsed.

Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south near Kherson was in discussion for weeks, and on August 29, it was officially launched. In two weeks, Ukrainian forces liberated 500 square kilometers and several settlements.

But the main events of the beginning of September unfolded in the northeast. “This week we have good news from the Kharkiv region,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, said on September 7 in his daily address without any specifics. Five days later, Zelenskyy reported that 6,000 square kilometers of the territory of Ukraine was liberated since the beginning of the month. And in two more days, he had already made a visit to the de-occupied city of Izіum.

Ukrainian servicemen with Ukrainian flag near the Izium city sign.
Photo from Andrii Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces advanced tens of kilometers and liberated most of the Kharkiv region in about a week. Including the city of Balakliia, which was occupied since early March. And the city of Izium, an important transportation hub for Russian supply lines. In some areas of the front, Ukrainian defenders have reached the state border with Russia, according to Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv Region Military Administration.

“This is an incredibly successful offensive in military terms and I think it is a humiliation for the Russian army in symbolic terms as well,” – says Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor at The Economist. – “What the significance of this offensive is, is not that it means that victory is around the corner. It shows those who doubted that Ukraine can dislodge Russia, that the war is winnable.”

On September 10, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation reported on the retreat of Russian forces, stating that “it was decided to regroup the Russian forces stationed in Balakliia and Izium so as to increase efforts on the Donetsk front.”

Numerous pieces of equipment and ammunition were left behind during this retreat. According to General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reports, on September 6-11, Russian forces lost approximately 2850 military personnel, 86 tanks, 158 armored vehicles, 106 artillery systems, and other equipment.

Institute for the Study of War (ISW) states that Russia has openly acknowledged a defeat for the first time since February 24.

ISW also reports that western weapons systems were necessary but not sufficient to secure success for Ukraine. The Ukrainian employment of those systems in a well-designed and well-executed campaign has generated the remarkable success of the counter-offensive operations in the Kharkiv region.

On September 14, Hanna Maliar, Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine, provided the latest update: 8,500 square kilometers in the Kharkiv region were returned under Ukrainian control. 388 settlements and 150 thousand people were liberated from the Russian occupation.

But with every liberated settlement, more crimes of Russians are revealed. A mass burial site with more than 440 bodies was found in Izium. A lot of bodies have not been identified yet. 99% of the exhumated ones have evidence of torture and violent death. Both in Izium and Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, horrifying torture chambers were found. 

“Our law enforcement officers already receive reports of murders, tortures, and abductions by the occupiers. What the world saw in Bucha, what we saw in the de-occupied territory of the Chernihiv region, Sumy region, and what we are seeing now in the Kharkiv region are evidence of genocide against Ukrainians,” said Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his visit to the city of Izium.

Veronika Lutska