Ukraine’s military reports that it had liberated over 20 settlements in Kharkiv Oblast within days of launching a surprise counteroffensive in the country’s northeast.
Ukrainian forces have advanced 50 kilometers deep into the Russian-occupied territories near Balakliia, Kharkiv Oblast, according to Deputy Chief of Ukraine's General Staff Oleksiy Hromov.
Despite the military not naming the liberated settlements, the city of Balakliia was confirmed to be freed by Ukrainian troops.
“Balakliia, Kharkiv Oblast, is under (Ukrainian) control. The order is complete,” said soldiers in a Sept. 8 video published by President Volodymyr Zelensky on Telegram.
Balakliia, with a prewar population of 30,000, became the largest settlement retaken by Ukraine so far.
In a later video, Zelensky said the Armed Forces have liberated over 1,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian land since Sept. 1. The figure includes territories in both Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin claims that its war against Ukraine is going as initially planned, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying on Sept. 7 that “(Russia) has not lost anything and will not lose anything.”
Videos of Ukrainian troops marching forward deep into Russian-occupied territory in northeastern Ukraine flooded official and unofficial Ukrainian military channels.
The pivotal moment came when the Ukrainian flag was officially raised over Balakliia.
According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a D.C- based think tank monitoring the conflict, Ukraine’s rapid success is in part due to Russia being forced to relocate its troops south.
On Aug. 29, Zelensky said that Ukraine was launching a counteroffensive to liberate the country's southern Kherson Oblast.
“Ukrainian forces in southeastern Kharkiv Oblast are likely exploiting Russian force reallocation to the southern axis to conduct an opportunistic yet highly effective counteroffensive,” ISW reported on Sept. 7.
Ukraine is allegedly now pressing towards the occupied city of Kupiansk, some 70 kilometers northeast of Balakliia. Unconfirmed reports put Ukrainian troops as close as 20 kilometers west of the settlement.
The Ukrainian military denies commenting on the ongoing operation.
On Sept. 7, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called the operation “a counteroffensive” for the first time, hailing “demonstrable success” by Ukraine’s Armed Forces.
Emphasizing that “the face of war is changing,” Austin vowed that his country would increase support to help Ukraine’s counteroffensive drive.
On Sept. 8, the Pentagon officially announced a new $675 million military aid package which includes new howitzers, shells, armored vehicles, and munitions for HIMARS.