Ukrainian forces swept further across territory seized from fleeing Russian troops on Monday, as Moscow grappled with the consequences of the collapse of its occupation force in north-eastern Ukraine.
Kyiv’s general staff said early on Monday that its forces had recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in just one day, after Russia acknowledged it was abandoning Izium, its main stronghold in the north-east.
“Taking them under full control and stabilisation measures are being carried out,” the general staff said of the newly liberated settlements.
The effort by Ukrainian forces was aided by a “special disinformation operation” which deceived Russia into thinking Kyiv would be focusing on the south of the country.
Taras Berezovets, a former national security adviser turned press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine’s special forces, told The Guardian: “[It] was a big special disinformation operation.
“[Russia] thought it would be in the south and moved their equipment.
Britain’s ministry of defence said Russia had probably ordered its forces to withdraw from all of Kharkiv region west of the Oskil River, abandoning the main supply route that had sustained Russia’s operations in the east.
Kyiv, which reached the Oskil when it seized the railway hub city of Kupiansk on Saturday, suggested Russia was already falling even further back: the Ukrainian general staff said Russian troops had abandoned Svatove in Luhansk province, around 20 km (12 miles) east of the Oskil.
The British ministry said Moscow’s forces were also struggling to bring reserves to the frontline in the south, where Ukraine has launched a big advance in Kherson province aiming to isolate thousands of Russian soldiers on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
“The majority of the (Russian) force in Ukraine is highly likely being forced to prioritise emergency defensive actions,” the British update said. “The rapid Ukrainian successes have significant implications for Russia’s overall operational design.”