Russia-Ukraine War: Live News Updates

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces entered the key Russian military stronghold of Izium on Saturday, continuing their rapid advance across the northeast and igniting a dramatic new phase in the more than six-month war.

“Izium was liberated today,” the city’s mayor, Valeriy Marchenko, said in an interview. While he was not yet in the city himself, he said that he was in contact with the police and that emergency services were working to clear it of possible hazards before residents could return.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense — which a day earlier had said that it was moving to reinforce its defensive positions in the region — confirmed on Saturday that it had pulled its forces out of Izium, six months after its forces laid siege to and then seized the city. In a statement, it presented the retreat as a preplanned move, intended to strengthen its efforts in the east where its army has been bogged down for weeks.

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Maintaining control of towns and cities has at times proven tenuous over the course of the war, and it was not immediately clear how secure Ukraine’s control over Izium was and what efforts Russia might take to try to win it back.

But the loss of Izium — a strategically important railway hub that Russian forces seized in the spring after a bloody weekslong battle — could mark a turning point in the war, dwarfed only by Russia’s humiliating defeat around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in the spring.

The first signs that Russian forces would retreat rather than fight emerged late on Friday.

“Yesterday evening, Russians put a white flag nearby the railway station,” Yevhen, a Ukrainian officer who participated in the liberation of Izium, said in a telephone interview. “There was street fighting all over the night.” He asked to be identified by only his first name out of concerns for his security.

Much about the Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region, where Izium is, was shrouded in uncertainty amid a lack of official confirmation, and military analysts cautioned that it was a fast-moving situation that could change by the hour.

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But the lightning offensive in the country’s northeast has reshaped what had become a grinding war of attrition. In a matter of days, Russian front lines have buckled, Moscow’s troops have fled and one village after another has come once more beneath Ukraine’s yellow and blue banner — like the town of Kupiansk just north of Izium, which sits on key supply routes to the eastern front line.

Ukraine’s Security Service posted a photo on Telegram showing members of the special forces in Kupiansk.

“We move further!” the post read, according to the Ukrinform news agency.

As Ukrainian officials celebrated the turn of events, however cautiously, some prominent pro-Kremlin military bloggers expressed anger and frustration at the rapid developments.

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A Russian military blogger, who goes by the name Rusich, has 278,000 followers on Telegram and claimed to be in the city on Friday, wrote that the surrender of Izium was a “small setback” and urged his followers not to “despair.”

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With the Russians out of towns and cities they had battered in order to seize, the cost of their monthslong occupation was just starting to come into focus. Ukrainian officials said they had dispatched investigators to newly liberated towns to begin compiling evidence of Russian war crimes.

In his overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said the military had recaptured more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region.

“Actions to check and secure the territory continue,” he said. “We are gradually taking control of new settlements.”

The eastern offensive, which began earlier this week, has cleared Russian forces from more than 2,500 square kilometers of land in the Kharkiv region as of Friday, according to an estimate by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

“There is still a lot that we don’t know about the offensive, but it is clear this was well planned and executed by Ukrainian forces,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “It looks like a very effective combined arms operation with tanks, mechanized infantry, Special Operations forces, air defenses, artillery and other systems.”

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Ukrainian and Western officials cautioned that the offensive operations were in their early days, that the situation was fluid and that any gains were far from secure. Some military analysts warned that the Ukrainians’ rapid advance could leave them stretched thin and vulnerable to counterattack.

In addition to the counteroffensive in the northeast, Ukraine has been making a push in the south to recapture territory in the Kherson region.

Mr. Marchenko, the mayor of Izium, said that about 12,000 residents had remained in the city and desperately needed humanitarian supplies.

He said he hoped that residents who had fled could start returning in three or four days but that devastation awaited them.

“There’s no single residential building that wasn’t damaged,” the mayor said.

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“Heating is the biggest problem,” he added. “I doubt whether we would be able to restore the heating system before winter.”

Oleksii Reznikoff, Ukraine’s defense minister, did not comment on specific gains but at a conference in Kyiv on Saturday he said the Russian troops were on the run.

“Russian troops will run, and they will, believe me, because today we are destroying their logistics chains, warehouses, and so on,” he said. “And the question will arise: ‘And where should they go?’ It will be like an avalanche.”

One line of defense will shake and it will fall, he said, and then another and another.

Ivan Nechepurenko and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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