Putin admits to mobilisation mistakes after reports of sick, old men being drafted
War in Ukraine: Kyiv makes battlefield gains as thousands of mobilised Russians sent home
- Kyiv’s forces continue counteroffensive blitz after capturing Russia’s eastern logistics hub of Lyman
- Half of mobilised men in Russian region sent home, unfit for duty, and military commissar is fired
Ukrainian forces were reported to be recapturing towns along the west bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine on Monday, with Moscow forced to yield territory along a second major front line just days after claiming to have annexed it.
The scale of the Ukrainian advance was unconfirmed, with Kyiv maintaining all but complete silence about the situation in the area.
But Russian military bloggers described a Ukrainian tank advance through dozens of kilometres of territory along the bank of the river.
In one of the rare comments by a Ukrainian official on the situation, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior ministry, posted what he said was video of a Ukrainian soldier waving a flag in Zolota Balka, downriver from the former front line.
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, cited Russian bloggers as reporting their forces falling back as far as Dudchany – 40km (25 miles) downriver from where they had opposed Ukrainian troops a day earlier.
“When this many Russian channels are sounding the alarm, it usually means they’re in trouble,” he wrote on Twitter.
A Ukrainian advance along the Dnipro river could trap thousands of Russian troops on the far side, cut off from all supplies. The river is enormously wide, and Ukraine has already destroyed the major crossings.
The reports were the first to describe a rapid Ukrainian advance in the south of the country since the war began, and come just a day after Ukraine routed Russian troops in a major bastion, Lyman, on the opposite end of the front in the east.
The advances in the east and the south – some of the biggest of the war so far – have all taken place in territory that President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed from Ukraine only on Friday, with a celebratory concert by the Kremlin walls.
They also come amid reports of chaos in a mobilisation ordered less than two weeks ago by Putin, which has seen tens of thousands of Russian men suddenly called up into the military and tens of thousands of others fleeing abroad.
Mikhail Degtyarev, governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia’s Far East, said several thousand men had reported for enlistment in 10 days but many were ineligible.
“About half of them we returned home as they did not meet the selection criteria for entering the military service,” Degtyarev said in a video post on the Telegram messaging app.
He said the region’s military commissar was removed but that his dismissal would not affect the mobilisation.
Authorities said they would call up 300,000 people in Russia with “relevant” skills or military experience.
But there have been outbursts of frustration after people who were not eligible, including students and elderly or infirm people, received summons.
Last week Putin said officials should “correct all mistakes” made during the recruitment drive.
The fall of Lyman in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province, hours after Putin declared his annexation, opens the way for Ukrainian forces to strike deeper into Russian-held territory and cut off remaining Russian supply routes.
“Thanks to the successful operation in Lyman we are moving towards the second north-south route … and that means a second supply line will be disrupted,” said reserve colonel Viktor Kevlyuk at Ukraine’s Centre for Defence Strategies think tank.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the capture of Lyman demonstrated that Ukraine was capable of dislodging Russian forces and showed the impact Ukraine’s deployment of advanced Western weapons was having on the conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday said the success of the country’s soldiers was not limited to Lyman.
The previous day he had pledged to retake more areas in the country’s eastern Donbas region within the week.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington was “very encouraged” by Ukrainian gains.
With Russian losses mounting, some experts have warned that Putin could turn to nuclear weapons – an option floated by one Putin ally.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Saturday that Russia should consider using “low-yield nuclear weapons” after Moscow’s troops were forced out of Lyman.
The United States says it would respond decisively to any use of nuclear weapons.
Putin staged a grand Kremlin ceremony on Friday to celebrate the annexation of the four Ukrainian territories – Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia – following referendums denounced as void by Kyiv and its allies.
Despite condemnation from the West, Russia’s Constitutional Court on Sunday recognised as lawful the annexation accords Putin signed with the Moscow-backed leaders of the four Ukrainian territories.
The annexation treaties will be considered by Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Monday, according to Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russia’s annexation move made ending the conflict “much more difficult, almost impossible”.
Pope Francis on Sunday “implored” Putin to stop the “spiral of violence and death”, condemning the annexations as breaches of international law.
The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Together the five regions make up around 20 per cent of Ukraine.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse