The Ukrainians used their firepower and cunning to blow a hole in Russia’s eastern front lines.
Both sides had been discussing and anticipating the possibility of a Ukrainian counter-offensive to Russian-held positions south of the country for a long time.
The sight of Ukrainian forces tearing down Russian flags, and raising their colours over Kharkiv’s eastern regions caught everyone off guard, even the Russians.
The most important gains made by Ukraine’s military since Russian troops abandoned plans to seize the capital Kyiv at the end March have been achieved with minimal fanfare.
In a lightning advance, its soldiers captured hundreds of miles of territory in Kharkiv that was previously under Russian control. This included villages and towns as well as cities.
After a period of silence by Ukrainian commanders and political leaders regarding any military action, the triumphs came after a time of relative peace.
Since the end of August, all journalists have been denied access to the entire frontline, except for those who are attached to the Ministry of Defence or the Ukrainian military.
It was part of an effort to limit the flow of information to the Russian side, potentially compromising the mission. This move highlighted the importance of information or, in this instance, withholding information in wartime.
The Ukrainian military launched their attacks under the cover of a media blackout, aided by an increasing flow of western weapons.
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On 29 August, the start of the much-anticipated counter-offensive against southern Kherson was confirmed. There were very few comments.
However, nothing was said about the apparent plot against Russian forces in Kharkiv.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Defence in the UK confirmed that the Kharkiv operation was launched four days earlier.
Moscow had sent thousands of troops to Kherson in preparation for the south offensive. However, the Kharkiv commanders seem to have made their lines perilously thin. This weakness was evidently exploited by the Ukrainians.
The first images of the Kharkiv offensive emerged in the last three days via the social media channels of troops participating in the operation, journalists and other commentators following Russia’s war on Ukraine closely.
Even pro-Russian social media platforms started to confirm that the Ukrainian advance was being made.
As the gains gained momentum, more official comments were made by Ukraine’s president.
Saturday saw Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi (commander of the Ukrainian land forces) also take cover.
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In video, he declared that Balakliia, a small city in the southeast, had been liberated. Others would soon follow. Kupiansk was cited by the top commander as a crucial logistics hub for Russian forces that helped to support troops in the Donbas region in southeast Russia – and Izyium as an even more strategic prize in Kharkiv.
The Russian Ministry of Defence made an astonishing announcement, stating that its troops in Balakliia, Izyium and other parts of the Donbas were “regrouping” at the Donetsk area.
A ministry spokesperson tried to sound like the intention was to concentrate on Russia’s stated military goals – “liberation” in Ukraine’s Donbas, rather than a hasty retreat.
Similar phony explanations were offered in March in an attempt to explain Russia’s failure in seizing Kyiv in its own lighting strike during the first weeks.
Two key positions in Kharkiv have been withdrawn. This is yet another sign that the Ukrainian military has beaten the far more powerful Russian army.
However, the big question is how these rapid gains can be sustained and consolidated so that the reclaimed land remains in Ukrainian hands.