Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says his troops have kicked Russian forces out of several towns in regions annexed by Russia in last month's "sham" referendums.
Russia held referendums in four regions in Ukraine, with Moscow claiming the majority voted in favour of annexing the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
The elections were condemned by the West and many countries imposed fresh sanctions.
While Moscow celebrated the annexation of the regions, Ukrainian forces advanced against Russian forces, with several towns being freed in the past week.
"This week alone, since the Russian pseudo-referendum, dozens of population centres have been liberated," Zelensky said in a Tuesday night address.
"These are in Kherson, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk regions altogether."
Zelensky cited eight small towns in Kherson in the south by name as recently having been recaptured. Reuters could not independently verify his statements.
A video released by the Ukraine defence ministry appeared to show the Ukrainian flag being raised over one of those communities, Davydiv Brid, in Kherson.
The Ukrainian flag flies again over the village of Davydiv Brid, Kherson region.
The Ukrainian marines are confidently advancing towards the Black Sea
🎥: 35th Marine Brigade. pic.twitter.com/HBi4P7aKrh
— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) October 4, 2022
Ukrainian forces retook several villages in an advance along the strategic Dnipro River on Monday, Ukrainian officials and a Russian-backed leader in the area said.
In the east, Ukrainian forces have been expanding an offensive after capturing the main Russian bastion in the north of Donetsk, the town of Lyman, hours after Putin proclaimed the annexation of the province last week.
Russian forces retreat, leave men behind
In the Donetsk and Kherson regions, Russian soldiers have been forced to retreat and it appears as though they are struggling to halt an increasingly Western-equipped Ukrainian army.
Over the weekend, Russian forces retreated from Lyman, a strategic eastern town that the Russians had used as a logistics and transport hub.
After the town was liberated, it gave Ukraine an important vantage point for pressing its offensive deeper into Russian-held territories.
Following the retreat, the Associated Press reporting from Lyman saw the bodies of at least 19 Russian soldiers on the ground.
Ukrainian forces collected the bodies of their comrades, however, the remains of the Russian soldiers were left behind.
Zelensky rules out speaking with Putin
Zelensky has signed a decree formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Putin as "impossible".
However, he has not ruled out having talks with Russia.
"He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia," Zelensky said.
Putin, who turns 70 this week, has dominated Russia's political landscape for more than two decades and could run for office two more times under the constitutional reforms he presided over.
He could potentially remain in power until 2036.
While Ukrainian forces advance through the annexed regions, Moscow has once again threatened nuclear retaliation.
However, it appears to be an empty threat, as the US has no indication Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons in its war with Ukraine.
with Reuters and Associated Press
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