The Russian Defense Ministry said it had withdrawn its troops from the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman hours after Kyiv said it had surrounded Russian forces there and one day after Moscow declared it was annexing the surrounding Donetsk region.
“As part of creating a threat of encirclement, Allied troops were withdrawn from the colony of [Lyman] towards more advantageous lines,” the ministry said on October 1.
He said, without providing evidence, that he inflicted heavy casualties on Ukrainian troops in the fight for the city.
But he added that he was forced to withdraw when “the enemy, having a significant superiority in forces and means, introduced reserves and continued the offensive in that direction”.
Moments before the Russian withdrawal announcementUkraine’s defense ministry said its forces had entered Lyman, a crucial railway hub that had been the target of Kyiv’s counteroffensive in recent days.
“Ukrainian air assault forces are entering Lyman, Donetsk region,” the ministry said on Twitter on October 1.
The Twitter post included a video of two soldiers taping a Ukrainian flag near a sign bearing the name of the city.
“We unfurl our state flag and establish it on our land. Lyman will be Ukraine,” one of the soldiers says in the video.
Serhiy Cherevatiy, spokesman for the Eastern Ukrainian Forces Group, said earlier on October 1 that Ukrainian forces had surrounded Russian troops near the crucial railway hub northeast of Sloviansk.
“The Russian group in the Lyman area is surrounded,” Cherevatiy said. “The settlements of Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve and Stavky have been liberated and stabilization measures are being taken there.”
Moscow used Lyman as a logistics hub for operations in the northern part of the Donetsk region. His fall would mark the most serious setback for Russian forces since a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive sent Russian troops reeling in the Kharkiv region last month.
Cherevatiy put the number of encircled Russian troops at around 5,000, adding that Russian forces continue to try to break out of the encirclement.
One road, to the Russian-occupied city of Kreminna, appeared to remain open early on October 1, perhaps offering Russian forces a final escape.
It was not immediately clear how many Russian soldiers might have escaped the encirclement, nor were there initial reports of casualties on either side in the latest fighting.
Cherevatiy added that Lyman’s release would allow Ukrainian forces to move into the Luhansk region “towards Kreminna and Syevyerodonetsk”.
Such a move would further embarrass the Kremlin, which declared the Luhansk region fully occupied in early July.
“It’s psychologically very important,” Cherevatiy said, stressing that “the operation is not over yet.”
On September 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally proclaimed the partially occupied Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya as Russian territory, a significant political escalation that has been widely condemned by the West.
The four regions plus Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014, make up around 20% of Ukraine, including some of its most industrialized territories.
Kyiv said it would not negotiate with Moscow as long as Putin remained in power.