On Sep. 6, the Armed Forces of Ukraine began a counterattack on Russian positions in the Kharkiv Oblast, following an offensive in the Kherson Oblast last week. Although progress has been made on the advance in the south of the country, the eastern offensive in Kharkiv has forced the Russians into a total rout. Every following day, Ukrainian forces have pushed deeper into the front lines, and have forced the Russians at some points back to the border between the two countries. Months of Russian advance in the region, often with heavy casualties, have been undone in a single week.
By Sep. 8, The Guardian reported that Ukrainian forces had pushed approximately 20 km past their starting positions, spearheaded by a small force of tanks and other armored vehicles while supported by infantry and anti-air equipment.
“The fighting is concentrated around the village of Balakliia, roughly 45 miles south-east of Kharkiv – which appears to still be held by the Russians, but which Ukraine hopes to surround – and in the vicinity of Shevchenkovo on the way to the Russian staging post of Kupiansk. The military aim is to increase pressure on Izium, a strategic city captured by the invaders at the end of April, a gateway to the western Donbas,” The Guardian reported.
Fighting in and around Balakliia continued through the next day, until photographic evidence and a statement from the Ukrainian government showed the Russians were forced out of the town, with Ukrainian soldiers continuing eastwards.
Reuters reported that same day of a large-scale Russian retreat from Kharkiv Oblast, abandoning several key towns west of the Oskil river, hoping to evacuate troops as Ukrainian bridgeheads formed.
“The Russian withdrawal announcement came hours after Ukrainian troops captured the city of Kupiansk farther north, the sole railway hub supplying Russia’s entire front line across northeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials posted photos early on Saturday of their troops raising the country’s blue-and-yellow flag in front of Kupiansk’s city hall,” Reuters reported.
On Sep. 11, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the country, claiming that the entirety of Kharkiv Oblast was liberated, increasing Ukrainian gains to an approximate 4000 square kilometers, according to the BBC.
The BBC stated that while Ukrainian soldiers were welcomed by the civilian population, Russian troops had destroyed power lines and other infrastructure in their retreat and repairing these facilities would be a top priority. The southerly offensive, however, has advanced slower due to the well-prepared defenses around the cities.
According to CNN, Russian troops, either ordered to fall back or in a shattered retreat, have stolen fuel from civilian trucks and cars, as well as the vehicles themselves. Larger vehicles and tanks have been found by Ukrainian troops in liberated territories, believed to have run out of fuel or broken down due to poor maintenance.
“And without a drastic, and potentially unconventional intervention from Putin, the Ukrainian victories are likely to accelerate, analysts say. Many of Russia’s problems — poor and inflexible leadership, sour troop morale, inadequate logistics and hardware beset by maintenance issues — have been evident since the beginning stages of the war more than seven months ago,” CNN reported.
Continued pushes, including rumors of entry into the city of Donetsk, capital of the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic since 2014, have been unverified. But even when looking at the established gains made by Ukraine this week, it is clear that Russia may either have to approach for peace, or risk further defeats and the disintegration of entire military units.