Ukrainian forces encircled the strategic eastern city of Lyman on Saturday in a counteroffensive that has humiliated the Kremlin.
Officials said that Ukraine’s forces had surrounded some 5,000 Russian soldiers who were trying to hold the eastern city of Lyman, which is located in Luhansk, one of the four newly annexed areas.
Andriy Yermak, president Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, shared a video on Saturday purporting to show Ukrainian soldiers at a monument on the outskirts of Lyman, waving a signed Ukrainian flag.
It remained unclear whether Ukrainian forces have entered the city itself. Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes to resupply Russian forces in the city were blocked.
Lyman, a key transportation hub, had been an important site in the Russian front line for both ground communications and logistics.
With that barrier overcome, Ukraine can potentially push further into the occupied Luhansk region, which is one of four regions that Russia annexed on Friday after an internationally criticised referendum vote.
The withdrawal comes at a pivotal moment in the war, as Mr Putin this week heightened his threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date as he announced the illegal annexation.
Meanwhile in the northeast, Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of killing at least 20 civilians – including children – in an attack on a civilian evacuation convoy.
The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyehubov, said 24 civilians were killed in an attack earlier this week on a convoy of people trying to flee the Kupiansk district, calling it “cruelty that can’t be justified”.
He said 13 children and a pregnant woman were among the dead. “The Russians fired at civilians almost at point-blank range,” Syniehubov wrote on the messaging app Telegram.
In the south, Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said that Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4pm on Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.
Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Mr Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and took him to an undisclosed location.
“His detention by [Russia] jeopardises the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom president Petro Kotin said.
In other fighting reported on Saturday, four people were killed and six wounded by Russian shelling Friday in the Donetsk region, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported.
The Russian army struck the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv twice overnight, once with drones and the second time with missiles, according to regional governor Vitaliy Kim. Five people were injured, including a three-month-old baby, he said.