Ukraine liberates first Luhansk village as US sends $600 million to help counter-offensive

Ukraine liberates first Luhansk village since Russian invasion as its lightning counteroffensive continues – after the US sent another $600M in military aid

  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday evening told the nation that the Russian invaders were in ‘panic’
  • His country’s army recaptured its first village in the province of Luhansk, as the counter-attack continued to make striking progress
  • On Thursday the United States announced a further $600 million in military aid to Ukraine, to keep the momentum strong
  • The latest package of weapons systems brings the total amount of U.S. aid to Ukraine to nearly $15.9 billion since President Joe Biden took office 

Ukraine has captured its first village in Luhansk as its counter-offensive presses further into Russia-occupied territory, refusing to slow after snatching back thousands of miles in east Ukraine from the Russian war machine.

The occupied country said its troops have marched farther east into territory recently abandoned by Russia after its six-month campaign, paving the way for a potential assault on Moscow’s occupation forces in the Donbas region as Kyiv seeks more Western arms.

The village lies only a dozen or so miles from the towns of Lysychansk and Severdonestsk, regions that took Russia five months to conquer — with the Ukrainian army stating its intent to take back all of Luhansk, much of which has been occupied since 2014.

In a sign of nervousness from a Moscow-backed administration in Donbas about the success of Ukraine’s recent offensive, its leader called for urgent referendums on the region becoming part of Russia.

‘The occupiers are clearly in a panic,’ Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised address late on Monday, adding that he was now focused on ‘speed’ in liberated areas.

‘The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed in restoring normal life,’ Zelensky said.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced it was sending another $600 million in military aid to Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers ride in an armored personnel carrier in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region on Monday

Ukrainian soldiers ride in an armored personnel carrier in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region on Monday

A man walks through the ruins of a building destroyed by recent shelling during Russia-Ukraine conflict in the city of Kadiivka (Stakhanov) in the Luhansk region on Monday

A man walks through the ruins of a building destroyed by recent shelling during Russia-Ukraine conflict in the city of Kadiivka (Stakhanov) in the Luhansk region on Monday

A view of destruction in the Izyum city, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Monday

A view of destruction in the Izyum city, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Monday

The White House said it was the 21st time that the Defense Department has pulled weapons and other equipment off the shelves to deliver to Ukraine.

The package will include more of the same types of ammunition and equipment that have helped Ukrainian forces beat back the Russian forces in portions of the east and south.

‘With admirable grit and determination, the people of Ukraine are defending their homeland and fighting for their future,’ said Antony Blinken, Secretary of State.

‘The capabilities we are delivering are carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table when the time is right.’

He tweeted: ‘I have directed another $600 million drawdown to expedite our 21st shipment of arms and equipment from @DeptofDefense inventories to Ukraine, as its defenders push back Russian invasion forces. The United States stands #UnitedWithUkraine.’

The decision to move on new aid quickly – on the heels of a nearly $2.9 billion infusion of aid and financing support announced last week and more than $3 billion announced in late August – underscore the U.S. intent to ensure that Ukraine can sustain its stunning counterattack that was launched early this month.

That most recent funding included $2.2 billion in long-term military financing announced that Blinken announced during a visit to Ukraine last week, and a $675 million weapons package announced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Europe that same day.

The $2.2 billion that Blinken announced in Kyiv is for Ukraine and 18 of its neighbors, including NATO members and regional security partners, that are potentially at risk of future Russian aggression, the U.S. said.

Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, is pictured on Thursday, as he announces an additional $600 million in aid to Ukraine

Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, is pictured on Thursday, as he announces an additional $600 million in aid to Ukraine

A Ukrainian national guard serviceman walks on a destroyed Russian APC at the checkpoint near the recently-retaken area of Izium on Thursday

A Ukrainian national guard serviceman walks on a destroyed Russian APC at the checkpoint near the recently-retaken area of Izium on Thursday

A burned Russian APC in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Thursday amid the Russian retreat

A burned Russian APC in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Thursday amid the Russian retreat

Moscow’s recent rout in northeast Ukraine was its largest military defeat since the withdrawal of Russian troops from areas near Kyiv more than five months ago.

The latest package of weapons systems brings the total amount of U.S. aid to Ukraine to nearly $15.9 billion since President Joe Biden took office.

U.S. officials watching the counteroffensive have been careful not to declare a premature victory, noting that Russia still has substantial troops and resources. 

And they are wary of what Russian President Vladimir Putin may do to turn the tide.

But U.S. leaders also have made clear that the precision weapons and rocket systems provided by the U.S. and allies – including the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM – have been key to the dramatic shift in momentum.

World leaders this week will hear from the Ukrainian leader at the United Nations, and Zelensky hinted he would use his video address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday to call on countries to accelerate weapons and aid deliveries.

‘We are doing everything to ensure Ukraine’s needs are met at all levels — defense, financial, economic, diplomatic,’ Zelensky said.

Serhiy Gaidai, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, a province in the Donbas now under control of Russian troops, said Ukraine’s armed forces had regained complete control of the Luhansk village of Bilohorivka and were preparing to fight to retake the entire province.

‘There will be fighting for every centimetre,’ Gaidai wrote on Telegram. ‘The enemy is preparing their defense. So we will not simply march in.’

In another important milestone for the counter-offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ukraine’s armed forces said troops had crossed the Oskil River over the weekend.

The river flows south into the Siversky Donets, which snakes through the Donbas, the main focus of Russia’s invasion.

Further beyond lies Luhansk, a base for Russia’s separatist proxies since 2014 and fully in Russian hands since July after some of the war’s bloodiest battles.

A Russia-backed separatist official in Donetsk, the other province in Donbas, said 13 people were killed in artillery shelling on Monday in the city of Donetsk.

Reuters could not independently verify either side’s battlefield reports.

Ukrainian authorities exhume the bodies of people killed as a result of war at the Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal in Izium

Ukrainian authorities exhume the bodies of people killed as a result of war at the Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal in Izium

Experts have so far dug up 146 bodies buried without coffins, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Monday

Experts have so far dug up 146 bodies buried without coffins, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Monday

According to preliminary examinations, four showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case a rope tied round their neck

According to preliminary examinations, four showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case a rope tied round their neck

Ukraine is still assessing what took place in areas that were under Russian control for months before a rout of Russian troops dramatically changed the dynamic of the war earlier this month.

At a vast makeshift cemetery in woods near the recaptured town of Izium, Ukrainian forensic experts have so far dug up 146 bodies buried without coffins, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Monday.

Some 450 graves have been found at the site, Zelensky has said

Fanning out in groups beneath the trees, workers used shovels to exhume the partially decomposed bodies, some of which locals said had lain in the town streets long after they died before being buried.

The government has not yet said how most of the people died, though officials say dozens were killed in the shelling of an apartment building, and there are signs others were killed by shrapnel.

According to preliminary examinations, four showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case a rope tied round their neck, Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of investigative police in the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the burial ground.

Bolvinov said the great majority of the bodies appeared to be civilians. Locals have been identifying their dead by matching names to numbers on flimsy wooden crosses marking the graves.

‘Soldiers had their hands tied, there were signs of torture on civilians,’ Bolvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers were in a mass grave at the site.

Reuters could not corroborate Ukraine’s allegations of torture.

The Kremlin denied on Monday that Russia was to blame for atrocities that Ukraine says it has uncovered in the recaptured territory.

Russia has struck a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, damaging power plant buildings

Russia has struck a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, damaging power plant buildings

Kremlin troops hit the Pivdennoukrainsk plant in Mykolaiv region, with a 'powerful explosion' taking place just 300 yards away from the reactors

Kremlin troops hit the Pivdennoukrainsk plant in Mykolaiv region, with a ‘powerful explosion’ taking place just 300 yards away from the reactors

The attack damaged power plant buildings, a nearby hydroelectric power plant and transmission lines

The attack damaged power plant buildings, a nearby hydroelectric power plant and transmission lines

A production facility damaged by a Russian military strike is seen at a compound of the Pivdennoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant today

A production facility damaged by a Russian military strike is seen at a compound of the Pivdennoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant today

The Pivdennoukrainsk plant, also known as the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, sits along the Southern Bug River

The Pivdennoukrainsk plant, also known as the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, sits along the Southern Bug River

Ukraine accused Russian forces on Monday of shelling near the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant in the country’s southern Mykolaiv region.

A blast occurred 300 yards away from the reactors and damaged power plant buildings shortly after midnight on Monday, Ukraine’s atomic power operator Energoatom said in a statement.

The reactors were not damaged and no staff were hurt, it said, publishing photographs showing a huge crater it said was caused by the blast.

‘Russia endangers the whole world. We have to stop it before it’s too late,’ Zelensky said in a social media post.

The strikes will add to global concern over the potential for an atomic disaster, already elevated by fighting around another Ukrainian nuclear power plant in the south, Zaporizhzhia, captured by Russian forces in March. 

Moscow has ignored international calls to withdraw and demilitarize it.

In a new setback at Zaporizhzhia, the IAEA said a power line used to supply the plant was disconnected on Sunday, leaving it without backup power from the grid.

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