A Ukrainian serviceman pets a dog near a captured Russian tank in Kharkiv region of Ukraine on Friday as the Ukrainian army pushed Russian troops from occupied territory in the northeast of the country. Photo by Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA-EFE
Oct. 1 (UPI) -- The Kremlin announced Saturday it has withdrawn troops from the key eastern Ukrainian transport hub of Lyman after Kyiv said its troops had encircled the city in a counter-offensive.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters troops have been "withdrawn" from Lyman "due to the threat of encirclement."
"In connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement, the allied troops were withdrawn from the city of [Lyman] to more advantageous lines," he said.
Ukrainian officials on Saturday said that 5,000 Russian troops were cut off in the strategic city, a critical railway junction in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, after Ukrainian troops had "liberated" five nearby settlements.
Serhii Haidai, chief of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, told local television the thousands of Russian occupiers were trapped in Lyman and now have "three options -- either to try to break through, give up, or all die together," the official Ukrainian News Agency reported.
Haidai stressed that the 5,000 soldiers figure was not exact, but rather an estimate.
Ukrainian army spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi told the agency the settlements of Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve and Stavky, all near Lyman, had been "liberated" by the army's Eastern Group and that Lyman itself was "cordoned off."
A video posted on Telegram Saturday by Andrii Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, showed troops installing the Ukrainian flag at the entrance to the city.
Western military analysts have said that winning back Lyman -- an important railway junction seized by Russian troops in May -- could be a key to retaking other Russian-held positions in both the Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk regions.
That, in turn, could frustrate Russian President Vladimir Putin's overall aim of bringing the whole of eastern Ukraine under Russian control.
The apparent Ukrainian gains in and around Lyman are coming just a day after Putin signed a treaty claiming Russia has annexed Donetsk, Luhansk and two other regions of Ukraine that Moscow only partly occupies as a result of the seven-month invasion of its neighbor.
He also made a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons to enforce its occupation.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the attempt to annex Ukrainian territory was a clear violation of international law that "tramples" on the United Nations Charter.
A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo