- Ukraine says its forces have captured a village near Lyschansk
- Separatist leader calls for urgent referendum to join Russia
- “Obviously the occupiers are in a panic,” Zelensky
IZYUM (Ukraine) (Sept 20) (Reuters) – Ukraine said its forces have pushed east into an area recently ceded by Russia, paving the way for a possible attack on Moscow’s occupying forces in the Donbass region where Kyiv is seeking more Western weapons.
“It is clear that the occupiers are in a state of panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised address late on Monday, adding that he was now focusing on “speed” in the liberated areas.
“The speed with which our forces are moving. The speed at which normal life is restored,” Zelensky said.
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The Ukrainian leader also hinted that he would use a video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to call on countries to speed up arms and aid deliveries.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that Ukraine’s needs are met at all levels – defense, financial, economic and diplomatic,” Zelensky said.
The region’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said that the Ukrainian armed forces had regained full control of the village of Belhorivka, and were preparing to retake the entire Luhansk province from Russian occupiers. The village is located just 10 kilometers west of the city of Lysichansk, which fell to the Russians after weeks of fierce fighting in July.
“There will be a fight for every centimeter,” Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is preparing to defend. So we will simply not enter.”
Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk province make up the eastern Donbass industrial region, which Moscow says it intends to capture as a primary target of what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces have begun incursions into Luhansk since Russian forces were expelled from the northeastern province of Kharkiv in a lightning counterattack this month.
Indicating the tension of the Moscow-backed administration in Donbass over the success of the latest Ukrainian offensive, its leader called for urgent referendums on whether the region should become part of Russia.
Denis Pushlin, head of the Moscow-based Donetsk separatist administration, called on his fellow separatist leader in Luhansk to unite efforts in order to prepare for a referendum on joining Russia. Read more
In the south, where the Ukrainian counterattack was progressing slower, the Ukrainian armed forces said they had sunk a barge carrying Russian soldiers and equipment across a river near Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region.
“Attempts to build the crossing failed to withstand the fire of the Ukrainian forces and stopped. The battleship became … in addition to the submarine force of the occupiers,” the army said in a statement on Facebook.
Reuters was not able to independently verify either side’s reports on the battlefield.
Ukraine is still assessing what happened in the areas that were under Russian control for months before the defeat of Russian forces dramatically changed the dynamic of the war earlier this month.
Ukrainian forensic experts have so far dug 146 bodies without coffins in a makeshift cemetery in the forests near the recovered town of Izyum, Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Senhopov said on Monday. Zelensky said about 450 graves had been found at the site
Spreading out in groups under the trees, workers used shovels to exhume the partially decomposed bodies, which some locals said were dumped on city streets long after she died before being buried.
The government has not yet released a death toll, though officials say dozens were killed in the bombing of an apartment building, and there are signs of others killed by shrapnel.
Serhiy Polvinov, head of the investigative police of the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the cemetery that according to preliminary examinations, four of them showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case they were tied with a rope around their necks.
Polvinov said the vast majority of the bodies appeared to be civilians. Locals recognized their dead by matching names to numbers on flimsy wooden crosses marking the graves. Read more
“The soldiers had their hands tied, and there were signs of torture on the civilians,” Polvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers were in a mass grave at the site. Read more
Reuters was unable to confirm Ukraine’s allegations of torture.
On Monday, the Kremlin denied holding Russia responsible for atrocities that Ukraine says it discovered in the recaptured area.
“It is a lie and of course we will defend the truth in this story,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, referring the allegations to incidents earlier in the war where Russia claimed without evidence that Ukrainians had committed atrocities.
Warning about the nuclear plant
Ukraine accused Russian forces on Monday of bombing near the Pevdnoukrainsk nuclear power plant in the southern Mykolaiv region.
The Ukrainian atomic energy company, Energoatum, said in a statement that an explosion occurred 300 meters from the reactors and damaged the power station buildings shortly after midnight on Monday.
It added that the reactors were not damaged and no worker was hurt, and published pictures showing a huge crater that it said was caused by the explosion.
“Russia is endangering the whole world. We must stop it before it is too late,” Zelensky said in a social media post.
The strikes will heighten global concern about the possibility of an atomic catastrophe, which has already been heightened by fighting around another nuclear power plant in the south, Zaporizhia, which was captured by Russian forces in March.
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Ramy Ayoub and Stephen Coates. Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry
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