The retreat comes just a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed large swaths of Ukraine following what many are calling sham referenda across four eastern and southern Ukrainian regions. Putin claims the referenda signaled support for the regions joining Russia, but for now, Ukraine can claim yet another victory for its counteroffensive.
“In connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement, allied troops were withdrawn from the settlement of [Lyman] to more advantageous lines,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said. The Russian government also blamed the withdrawal on Ukraine using “Western-made artillery and intelligence from North Atlantic alliance countries [NATO].”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky celebrated the news in an address Saturday night. “The Ukrainian flag is already in Lyman, Donetsk region. Fighting is still going on there. But there is no trace of any pseudo-referendum there,” he said.
Zelensky announced Friday that his country had submitted an expedited application for NATO membership. “Ukraine was and remains a leader in negotiation efforts. It was our state that always offered Russia to reach an agreement on coexistence on equal, honest, decent and fair terms,” Zelensky said in a video message. “It is obvious that this is impossible with this Russian president. He does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but already with another president of Russia.”
Russia’s latest retreat is sure to anger the Kremlin after the government attempted to soften the blow of last month’s troop fallback. Russian officials have even admitted recently that their operation in Ukraine has slowed, claiming the reason is to “avoid casualties among civilians.” It has been reported that 5,600 civilians have perished since the onset of the war, and there are allegations of Russia purposely targeting civilians.
Russian official Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, called for “more drastic measures” to be taken as troops flee Lyman, according to the Associated Press. He also claimed that one Russian general was being “covered up for by higher-up leaders in the General Staff.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the U.S. continue to seek billions of dollars in more aid for Ukraine. The U.S. has already committed upwards of $40 billion to Ukraine since the end of January, more than every country in the world combined, according to figures from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. The American government’s military aid to Ukraine has, no doubt, helped the country fend off its Russian invaders. After seven months of fighting, Vladimir Putin’s forces have caused death and destruction, but remain far from accomplishing a full-scale takeover of the country.