Key developments on Sept. 13.
- Ukraine liberates more than 300 towns and villages in Kharkiv Oblast
- About 150,000 Kharkiv Oblast residents freed from Russian occupation
- Ukraine continues its southern counteroffensive
- Russia masses artillery fire across Donetsk Oblast's front line
Ukraine recaptured more than 300 settlements in northern Kharkiv Oblast, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Sept. 13.
According to the official, nearly 150,000 Kharkiv Oblast residents have been freed from Russian occupation in the rapid counteroffensive. Maliar added that Ukrainian forces had already recaptured 3,800 square kilometers in the region.
Kyiv's recent gains and Russian retreat in the northeast have fueled optimism that Ukrainian forces could push deeper into occupied territories in the coming weeks.
In the country's south, Ukraine continued to strike Russian military positions in Kherson Oblast in its weeks-old counteroffensive aimed at retaking its southern regional capital.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told RBC Ukraine that the prospect of peace talks with Russia would depend on Ukraine's battlefield success. He said that the more victories Ukraine achieves, the stronger the country's hand would be at the negotiation table.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued their incessant shelling of eastern Donetsk Oblast, with Avdiivka coming under massive artillery fire overnight, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported on Sept. 13.
Front line movement
After several days of dynamic changes in Kharkiv Oblast, military analysts say the front line will likely remain still as Ukraine reinforces its troops and organizes logistics in preparation for future attacks.
Russian soldiers left behind many tanks, artillery pieces, ammunition, and radar systems as they withdrew amid a lack of fuel.
The Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), an independent Russian investigative group, said that Russian forces had lost 125 tanks in Kharkiv Oblast.
After taking Izium, a strategically important railway hub in the southeastern part of Kharkiv Oblast, Russia approached key cities in the Donbas – Sloviansk, and Kramatorsk.
Now, the cities are looking to be out of reach for the Russians.
On Sept. 12, the National Guard posted a video on social media of Ukrainian troops entering Sviatohirsk, Donetsk Oblast. The video suggests that Ukrainian troops were able to cross the Siverskyi Donets River, a waterway dividing Ukrainian and Russian positions.
Heavy fighting is also reported in Lyman, Donetsk Oblast, occupied by Russia since May.
Russia's next move
Western intelligence officials told Washington Post that the Kharkiv Oblast counteroffensive could mark a turning point in the war, raising pressure on Moscow to reinforce its troops to avoid further Ukrainian advances.
The officials said the gains would be permanent depending on Russia's ability to implement a military draft or draw forces elsewhere to compensate for its heavy losses in Ukraine. However, Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia has ruled out any form of mobilization in the country, Russian Interfax reported on Sept. 13.
At the same briefing, following Russia's recent setbacks, Peskov warned that any criticism of its war in Ukraine is a breach of the local law, meaning that anyone who disagrees with the war can be imprisoned.
"The line is very, very thin. You have to be very careful here," he said, adding that the war will continue until its "goals" have been achieved.
Peskov's first comments on recent developments in Kharkiv Oblast came after nearly 50 Russian municipal deputies called for Putin's resignation in a rare dissent. The move is unlikely to influence the balance of power in Russia.
Oleksandr Shapoval, a well-known ballet dancer at Ukraine's National Opera, was killed on the battlefield in Donetsk Oblast. He joined the army in February.
In embattled Donetsk Oblast, another five people were killed, and 10 others were wounded on Sept. 12, Kyrylenko reported. The overnight mass shelling in the region reportedly killed another civilian.
The mandatory evacuation seems to have helped evacuate people from the warzone. Since the mandate was introduced in August, more than 16,000 people have been evacuated from Donetsk Oblast, Kyrylenko said during a briefing on Sept. 13.
He added that most people had already left the Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk Oblast before the mandatory evacuation.
According to the General Staff, Russian forces fired two missile strikes and eight airstrikes on Ukraine on Sept. 12, with particularly Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts coming under fire.
Russia continued to target power grids and electricity infrastructure in several regions, including Kharkiv, where blackouts were reported on Sept. 12.