© Reuters In this hand-held photo released Sept. 19, 2022, damaged cars are seen in the city of Kupyansk, which was recently liberated by Ukrainian forces following Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
by Tom Balmforth
IZIUM, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine says its troops have advanced east into territory recently abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a possible offensive against Moscow’s occupation of the Donbass region as Kyiv seeks more Western weapons.
In a televised address late Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the “occupiers are clearly in shock,” adding that he was focused on “speeding up” the now-liberated areas.
“The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed at which normal life can be restored,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine’s leader has hinted that he will make a video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to ask the countries to speed up the delivery of arms and aid.
“We are doing everything to ensure that Ukraine’s needs are met at all levels: defense, finance, economy, diplomacy,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine’s armed forces have taken full control of the village of Bylohorivka and are preparing to retake the entire Luhansk region from Russian invaders, regional governor Serhii Gaidai said. The village is just 10 km (6 mi) west of the city of Lisychansk and fell to the Russians in July after weeks of pitched battles.
“There will be a fight for every centimeter,” Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is setting up his defenses. So we won’t just go in.”
Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk region comprise the industrialized eastern Donbass region, which Moscow has said is the main objective of what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
After driving Russian troops out of the northeastern province of Kharkiv this month, Ukrainian troops began pushing into Luhansk.
The leader has signaled his dismay at the success of the Moscow-backed Donbas offensive in Ukraine and has called for an urgent referendum to make the region part of Russia.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Moscow-based separatist administration in Donetsk, has asked his separatist leader in Luhansk to coordinate efforts to organize a referendum on joining Russia.
The Ukrainian General Staff said on Monday that the fighting was confined to the Donetsk region.
“In the last 24 hours, units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine have launched enemy attacks in the settlements of Mayorsk, Vesele, Kurdyumivka and Novomykhailivka,” he said in a daily update.
As another Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south shows slow progress, Ukrainian armed forces say a boat carrying Russian troops and equipment has sunk in a river near Nova Khakovka in the Kherson region.
“An attempt to build a crossing could not withstand the fire from Ukrainian forces and stopped. The boat… became an addition to the invaders’ submarine force,” the military said in a statement on Facebook (NASDAQ: ).
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports from either side.
Ukraine is still assessing what happened in areas that had been under Russian control for months before Russian military offensives dramatically changed the dynamics of the conflict earlier this month.
Ukrainian forensic experts unearthed 146 bodies buried without coffins in a vast makeshift cemetery in a forest near the recaptured city of Izium, Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinyhubov said on Monday. About 450 graves were found at the site, Zelensky said.
Working in groups under the trees, the workers used shovels to pick up the partially decomposed bodies, some of which local residents said fell on the city streets before dying.
The government has not yet said how most of the people died, although officials said dozens of people were killed in the shooting at an apartment building and that there were signs that more were killed in the fighting.
A preliminary examination showed signs of torture on the four, with their hands tied behind their backs or, in one case, a rope tied around their necks, Serhiy Bolvinov, chief of investigative police in the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the funeral.
Bolvinov said most of the bodies appeared to be civilians. Local residents are identifying the dead by matching their names to numbers on the faded wooden crosses that mark the graves.
“Soldiers had their hands tied, there were signs of torture on civilians,” Bolvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers are in a mass grave at the site.
Reuters could not confirm Ukraine’s allegations of torture.
The Kremlin denied on Monday that Russia was responsible for the atrocities that Ukraine says it has witnessed in the recaptured territory.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov compared the accusations to a war in which Russia has previously claimed atrocities by Ukrainians without evidence, saying: “It is a lie and we defend the truth in this story.”
Alarm at the nuclear plant
Ukraine on Monday accused Russian forces of firing near the Pyvdenukrainsk nuclear power plant in the southern Mykolaiv region.
Ukraine’s atomic power operator Energoatom said in a statement after midnight on Monday that an explosion damaged power plant buildings 300 meters (yards) from the reactors.
He published photographs of what he said was a huge volcano caused by the explosion, saying the reactors were undamaged and no workers were injured.
“Russia threatens the whole world. We must stop it before it’s too late,” Zelensky said on social media.
The attack adds to global fears of a possible nuclear disaster in fighting around another nuclear power plant in the south of Zaporizhia, which was seized by Russian forces in March.