IThis is a liberation – something Ukrainians have been waiting for half a year now. According to President Zelensky, Ukrainian forces have taken more than 6,000 km from Russian occupation – including some cities in the Donbass, which took months for Russian forces to capture.
Any image coming from the newly liberated city is viewed with enchanting eyes. I was glued to one short video Shows the Ukrainian army entering Balaklia – the first of the large cities liberated in the Kharkiv region. The women of the town emerged from the basement, hugging the army and suggesting that they stay and eat. “Boys, we have some pancakes left,” he said. The soldiers begged: “We can’t now, please, maybe a little later,” they replied, in the tone children usually reserve for their mothers. “We need to move on, and it’s dangerous here – you need to evacuate.”
The speed and success so far has come as a shock, and it is extremely difficult for anyone to verify what is happening on the ground – the general staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did nothing for any journalist during this operation. Unofficially restricted access to the frontline. I’ve been covering the war for months, and over the past few days at a conference in Kyiv I had the opportunity to talk to Ukrainian military figures about retaliation.
What we’ve heard so far is that the Ukrainian military has managed not only to push the front line, but to break the line and make deep progress in the rear of the Russian army. Russian soldiers have abandoned their positions, leaving behind their equipment, vehicles, shells and even money: in a town, Ukrainian police reportedly found 20m Russian Ruble (£290,000) left by the occupiers.
When a Russian general tried to retreat as planned “regrouping”Even Russian preachers ridiculed him.
I spoke to a senior military officer who was shocked and still a little wary about the outcome. “Perhaps it’s an unprecedented disturbance from the Russians. It could still possibly be an ambush. The more we observe, the more it looks like a Russian military incursion.”
I even managed to catch the Defense Minister of Ukraine, Oleksey Reznikov, who told me with a smile that there should be “more surprises”. However, he became more serious and tense: “If Russian morale is low in the Kharkiv region, airborne troops are fighting in the south, and they are highly motivated – and making life really difficult for the Ukrainian army.”
People are generally hopeful. For the past five months, the Russian army has waged an artillery war instead of engaging in direct combat. But within days of this new attack, the Ukrainian military claims to have captured thousands of Russian soldiers as prisoners of war. This has raised hopes that at least 8,000 Ukrainian military personnel in Russia could be released in return.
Make no mistake, though: It’s not an easy road. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting and dying. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I learned of the death of a fellow soldier my two friendsRead about members of the National Opera who were killed in the Kharkiv region during the past few days, and joining forces.
I have found that the highest enthusiasm is expressed by international experts, diplomats and correspondents. Ukrainians are optimistic but wary. We each have a friend, a relative, or someone we know is fighting on the ground at the moment, someone we are unable to contact, or who can be sent on assignment.
So what happens next? The general understanding is that we should expect attacks on civilian infrastructure. Kremlin troops bombarded the cities they wanted to subdue, such as Severodonetsk and Mariupol, but stayed away from destroying power stations in the rest of Ukraine.
The destruction of power grids will be at its worst when cold weather arrives – November and December. On September 11, a day after talking with Ukrainian officials, Russia fired missiles at power stations, leaving five regions without power: Kharkiv, Sumy, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipro and Donbass. In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, which suffered the most, two energy company employees Millions of people were killed while trying to restore energy.
For the time being the focus should be on free zones. When the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions were liberated in March, the task was to get back to normal life as quickly as possible: to rebuild, restore energy, gas and water supplies, and restore connections to the Internet. A week after the fighting around Kyiv, the cities of Buka and Irpin were filled with people returning home.
Now, residents of the newly reclaimed areas have been advised to evacuate – they were not allowed to do so by the Russians during the occupation. Many houses have been destroyed; The newly liberated villages are the new frontline, and they are without gas, water and light – but also without the Russians. Zelensky’s recent address Turned this scene into a slogan for the latest phase of the war. Ukraine will live happily without gas and electricity, as long as the Russians are no more. “Without you” is the new motto.
Mobile connection is already working in one village. So I called up some people and asked what was happening. He did not talk about the horrors of the occupation, but about the joy of liberation: “The Ukrainian soldiers who came were almost hurt, that’s how the people embraced them; they almost crushed them in their arms.”
Natalia Gumenyuk is a Ukrainian journalist specializing in foreign affairs and conflict reporting, and the author of Lost Island: Tales from the Occupied Crimea.