Ukrainian soldiers carry supplies across a damaged bridge into the newly liberated city of Kupiansk, east of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday. The Ukrainian army pushed Russian troops from occupied territory in the northeast of the country in a counterattack. Photo by Atef Safadi/EPA-EFE
Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, described the ongoing war as something out of the Middle Ages as Ukrainians continued to reclaim territory from Russian control.
Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelensky, told 60 Minutes on Sunday that Russian forces use terrorist tactics to "frighten people to make them run" so they can occupy the territories, particularly referencing the bombing of two schools, a library, a hospital and a soccer stadium in Cherniv.
"Definitely, terrorism. The war is being waged using modern means, but from the moral and ethical point of view, the Middle Ages," Zelenska said.
She added that half of the country's families have been separated since the fighting began in February with soldiers serving on the front lines, women fleeing abroad to save their children and other family members living under Russian occupation.
"People are afraid to leave their homes because of the shelling. They're afraid to even try to evacuate," Zelenska said. "We have thousands of dead. Hundreds of children are dead."
Zelenska also appeared to hit out after some have questioned whether Ukraine should continue its efforts to reclaim its territory illegally annexed by Russia. Pope Francis on Sunday, for example, called on Zelensky to be open to "serious proposals for peace" in Ukraine.
"Imagine a situation where you've been attacked by bandits. They are threatening you, killing your children. And someone [suggests] maybe, it would be better to negotiate," Zelenska said. "That is impossible now. This is just my opinion as a citizen of Ukraine."
With Russia now considering four Ukraine provinces as part of its borders, Putin has engaged in what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has been called "nuclear saber-rattling" to protect Russia's claim to the land.
Ihor Murashov, the director general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant who was abducted by Russia on Friday, has been released from detention, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday.
"I welcome the release of Ihor Murashov, Director General of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant," Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, wrote on Twitter.
Murashov is responsible for nuclear and radiation safety at Europe's largest nuclear power plant. He was pulled from his car, blindfolded, and taken to an unknown location by Russian troops.
Meanwhile, Russian soldiers interviewed by Russia's state-controlled broadcaster Channel One on Sunday alleged that they had been forced to retreat from Lyman because they were fighting NATO soldiers, not just Ukrainians.
"These are no longer toys here. They are part of a systematic and clear offensive by the army and NATO forces," an unnamed deputy commander of one Russian battalion said, according to a translation by The New York Times.
Ukraine has submitted an application to join the defense alliance, which has been backed by at least nine central and eastern European countries.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told Russia's state news agency TASS that Moscow will keep a close watch on Ukraine's bid to join NATO.
"We are monitoring this decision very closely. And we remember that it was Ukraine's NATO orientation and confirmation of Ukraine's future membership in NATO that was one of the reasons for the special military operation," Peskov said.
"There are countries there that support this option of accelerated accession, there are countries that do not."
The decision to apply for NATO membership has roots from well before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Russia agreed with the United States and Britain to commit to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine if the country were to transfer its inherited Soviet nuclear weapons to Russia for decommissioning.
Then in 2008, NATO promised to give Ukraine full membership, which Putin has long seen as a threat to Russia. Ukraine and Russia have been engaged in ongoing disputes and conflict since Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine joined NATO as a partner in June 2020 but does not currently benefit from collective defense agreements.
Russia sent documents to NATO and the United States on Dec. 17 demanding that the international military alliance deny membership to former Soviet countries including Ukraine and scale back military forces in central and eastern European countries.
Russia's latest allegations come as Russian forces continue to lose ground and retreat in the four Ukrainian territories it has illegally annexed. Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have swiftly taken back key cities, including the strategic railway hub of Lyman.
Ukrainian forces reclaimed yet another village, Torske, near Lyman in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Sunday as troops fired on Russian forces in the nearby city of Kreminna in the Luhansk region, Ukraine's Eastern Group spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty said on national television.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Twitter that the village of Zolota Balka in the Kherson region has also been liberated and shared a video of a soldier raising the Ukrainian flag. In another video, the Ukrainian flag was seen being raised in the village of Myrolyubivka, also in the Kherson region.
Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Russian-backed separatist group in the Luhansk province, told Russia's Interfax news agency Monday that Ukrainian forces have crossed into Luhansk and have managed to secure their positions in the direction of Lysychansk.
Russia's Defense Ministry claimed Monday that Ukraine has lost more than 2,040 soldiers and personnel in the last 72 hours despite their advances.
In a statement on Twitter, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Monday that Russian "terrorists" also hit a hospital in the town of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region in which a doctor was killed and a nurse was injured.