Russian forces are withdrawing from areas in the Luhansk region, local officials said Tuesday, marking the latest development in Ukraine’s counteroffensive as its soldiers push eastward.
Governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, took to Telegram to say the city of Kreminna, first occupied by Russian forces in April, had once again raised the Ukrainian flag over its buildings.
It remains unclear why Russian forces have apparently withdrawn from the area just 15 miles north of the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk and Fox News could not confirm if Ukrainian soldiers had yet advanced on Kreminna.
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“Kreminna is completely empty – the Russian army has left the city,” Haidai said in a statement translated by Ukrinform.
Ukrainian forces have seen recent victories in the neighboring Kharkiv region since launching a major counteroffensive earlier this month and advancing toward Izyum, just 55 miles west of Kreminna.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that “elements” of Russian forces in the region have “withdrawn,” and over the weekend Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying that troops were being “regrouped” in areas like Balakliya and Izyum – once hotbeds for fighting and strategically vital for Moscow to resupply its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has yet to confirm its troop withdrawal but, according to the U.K. defense ministry, Ukrainian soldiers have recaptured some 1,200 square miles in less than a week.
The ministry said that one of Russia’s top fighting forces, the 1st Guards Tank Army, suffered heavy losses at the beginning of the war and has been unable to “fully reconstitute” since.
The ministry described the military unit as “one of the most prestigious of Russia’s armies, allocated for the defense of Moscow, and intended to lead counterattacks in the case of a war with NATO.”
Defense officials said Tuesday that the unit had been so badly degraded after more than six months of fighting that “It will likely take years for Russia to rebuild this capability.”