KYIV – Ukrainian forces reached the entrance of the eastern bastion of Lyman on Saturday after encircling thousands of Russian troops, Kyiv said, in a battlefield rebuttal to the Kremlin a day after it proclaimed a swathe of territory to be part of Russia.
The capture of Lyman would be a major setback for Russia after President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the annexation of the Donetsk region, along with three other regions, at a ceremony in Moscow on Friday condemned by Kyiv and the West as a farce.
Two grinning Ukrainian soldiers taped the yellow-and-blue national flag onto the “Lyman” welcome board at the entrance to the town in the north of Donetsk region, a video posted by the President’s Chief of Staff showed.
“Oct 1. We are unfurling our state flag and establishing it on our land. Lyman will be Ukraine,” one of the soldiers said, standing on the bonnet of a military vehice.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces said Russia had 5,000 to 5,500 troops at Lyman but that the number of encircled troops could be lower because of casualties.
“The Russian grouping in the area of Lyman is surrounded,” the spokesman, Mr Serhii Cherevatyi, said on television.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia’s last operational update was on Friday evening. On Saturday, the ministry’s Telegram channel published a series of congratulatory messages, including one from Mr Putin, to mark an army holiday, Ground Forces Day.