After Ukraine’s blitz liberated thousands of square miles from Russian occupation, has the war reached a tipping point?

A LIGHTNING assault by Ukraine that liberated thousands of square miles from Russian occupation left both sides wondering if the blitz could be the tipping point of the war.

The stunning Ukrainian counterattack took Putin’s invaders by surprise and sent thousands of terrified Russian soldiers fleeing for their lives.

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President Zelensky hailed the gains in his forces saying: “We are moving in one direction – forward and towards victory”Credit: Reuters
Ukrainian troops sit atop a tank on the street of Izyum after launching an attack on the Russian stronghold

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Ukrainian troops sit atop a tank on the street of Izyum after launching an attack on the Russian strongholdCredit: AFP
Ukrainian forces unleash lightning firepower on Russian troops as they retake thousands of square miles from invaders

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Ukrainian forces unleash lightning firepower on Russian troops as they retake thousands of square miles from invadersCredit: AFP

For months, Ukrainian commanders had spoken of a push south, 250 miles from the latest surge, where British and American long-range rockets were used to blitz bridges and ammunition dumps to isolate forces Russians.

The result was that the Russian generals reinforced their southern front and left their northern flank exposed.

But the speed of the Russian collapse in the north took both sides by surprise.

President Zelensky hailed the gains in his forces saying, “We are moving in one direction – forward and towards victory.

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Ukraine’s first objective with its northern assault was to recapture the town of Balakliya, 40 miles southeast of the city of Kharkiv, as a staging post for an attack on the Russian stronghold of Izyum, 25 miles south. -of the.

Russian troops captured Izyum after a month-long battle in March and the town became a supply hub for its devastating Donbass offensive.

As Ukrainian tanks charged across the countryside on September 6, under cover of darkness, the Russian front lines began to crumble.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the assault was designed around long-range rocket artillery systems donated by Western allies – including British GMLRS and American HIMARS systems with a range of over of 40 miles.

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Under control

The guns had opened at least 24 hours earlier during a “softening” operation. The attack was based on surprise and the greatest secrecy.

When initial reports emerged of clashes outside Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials refused to acknowledge them.

Then, 48 hours after the start, President Zelensky revealed that 385 square miles had been liberated. On Saturday, he said the area had doubled to 770 square miles. Now Ukraine says it has captured some 2,315 square miles, an area the size of Devon, and its troops are continuing to advance.

Russian troops fled in disarray, leaving countless tanks and armored vehicles in their wake, including valuable radars.

The Defense Ministry said some Russian units withdrew “in relatively good order and under control, while others fled in apparent panic.”

Moscow tried to disguise the retreat as a “battlegroup.”

But the Kremlin could not hide its worst defeat since the withdrawal from Kyiv in the first weeks of the war.

Ukraine’s iconic blue and yellow flag was raised in Izyum and Kupiansk, choking off a supply line to Russian troops further south.

The rout has sparked a backlash in Moscow, where Putin is facing growing dissent from far-right hawks who want even more bloodshed and carnage to crush Ukrainian resistance.

Boris Nadezhdin, a former MP, warned that Russia would face certain defeat without mass mobilization. He said: “It is impossible to defeat Ukraine using the resources Russia is fighting with and with its colonial warfare methods, using contract soldiers, mercenaries and no mobilization.”

Russia has lost around 80,000 soldiers who were killed, captured and wounded or who deserted, according to government estimates here.

But Putin’s refusal to call the war a war has crippled attempts to mobilize reserves. The despot insists on calling his massacre a “special military operation” which has led to increasingly desperate measures to find cannon fodder for the front.

A video emerged this week of a Russian mercenary leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin promising to overturn prisoners’ sentences if they volunteer to fight. He was shown in a prison yard saying, “If you serve six months, you’re free.” But he added: “If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will execute you.

About 40 St Petersburg lawmakers signed a petition after the collapse of Kharkiv urging Putin to step down. A state television pundit asked if the army was “combat-ready”.

As Putin was pictured opening a Moscow Ferris wheel as his army retreated, a pro-war blogger asked, “What’s wrong with you?” And the president’s Chechen henchman, Ramzan Kadyrov, denounced the Russian generals’ “mistakes” in a message to 2.4 million social media followers.

The assault on Kharkiv ended months of stalemate that had seen Russian forces slowly advance into areas where they could blast front lines with overwhelming artillery.

General Sir Richard Barrons, former joint chief of Britain’s armed forces, said it was too early to say whether the push was a tipping point.

He said: “The next few weeks will be crucial, as we will see if Ukraine can continue or consolidate its gains.”

The message from within Ukraine is clear.

President Zelensky vowed to keep pushing as he plunged into the bombed-out rubble of liberated Izyum on Wednesday. And he ignored Russian threats to choke off the world’s gas supply. He said Ukraine would always choose freedom and hardship over conquest by Moscow.

He said, “Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not so frightening and deadly to us as your ‘friendship and brotherhood.’

“History will put everything in its place. And we will be with gas, light, water and food . . . and without you! The scale of Russia’s defeat has triggered warnings that Putin could use nuclear weapons to regain the upper hand.

Former NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller warned: “I fear they are now responding in a really unpredictable way and in a way that could even involve weapons of mass destruction.”

The former US diplomat warned that Moscow could order a “nuclear demonstration strike, either a single strike over the Black Sea or a strike on a Ukrainian military installation in order to strike terror not only in the hearts of Ukrainians , but also among global partners and allies of Ukraine”.

ZELENSKY IN RUSSIA:

“Do you still think that we, Ukraine and Russia, are ‘one nation’? Do you still think you can scare us, break us, force us to make concessions?

You really didn’t understand anything? You don’t understand who we are? What are we destined for? What are we talking about? Read my lips: Without essence and without you? Without you. Without light and without you? Without you. Without water and without you? Without you. Without food and without you? Without you.

Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as frightening and deadly to us as your “friendship and brotherhood”. But history will put everything in its place. And we will be with gas, light, water and food. . . and without you!

For frontline fighters in Ukraine, the Kharkiv blitz was “a huge morale boost” and a reminder to the world that its troops can fight and win.

“Russia is not unstoppable,” one told The Sun. “We continue to show the world that we can win. We need the world to keep sending us weapons.

Britain has sent Ukraine at least six GMLRS long-range rocket systems, as well as thousands of anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has promised to continue training troops in the UK and sending support to Ukraine for as long as needed.

Experts expect the fighting to slump in mid-October, when autumn rains turn the ground into marshes, making it more difficult for troops to maneuver.

Shorter days and freezing conditions will limit winter operations, but General Barrons said Ukraine would be determined to “keep the fight alive”.

He said the ongoing battle in the southern province of Kherson was “strategically more important for both sides”. Ukraine has used HIMARS rockets to cut a key network of bridges that connect Russian soldiers on the west side of the Dnieper, but progress there is much slower.

General Barrons said: “Ukraine is patient. They isolate the Russian forces. They cannot afford to send their youth on a premature assault on Kherson. One thing we can be sure of is that the war will last until next year.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed the warning and said the West should expect a long battle ahead.

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He said: “It is encouraging to see that Ukrainian forces have been able to retake territory and also strike behind Russian lines.

“But we have to understand that this is not the beginning of the end of the war, we have to be prepared for the long term.”

A mother and daughter reunited in the recaptured town of Izyum

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A mother and daughter reunited in the recaptured town of IzyumCredit: AP
The rout has sparked a backlash in Moscow, where Putin is facing growing dissent from far-right hawks who want even more bloodshed and carnage to crush Ukrainian resistance.

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The rout has sparked a backlash in Moscow, where Putin is facing growing dissent from far-right hawks who want even more bloodshed and carnage to crush Ukrainian resistance.Credit: AFP

Michael A. Bynum