In the war against Ukraine, the Russian army gave up the strategically important city of Lyman in the east of the country. The units had been withdrawn, said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov in Moscow on Saturday.
The leadership of the Ukrainian army had previously expressed confidence. She regularly updated the world on the situation in the city in the Donetsk region in the east of the country. The latest message from military governor Serhiy Hajdaj on Saturday morning: 5,000 Russian soldiers are trapped. "They now have three courses of action: either they can try to break out, or they surrender. Or they all die together."
From the Kremlin, on the other hand, there was a long roaring silence on the situation on the ground. An impending defeat in the Battle of Lyman did not fit the picture that Putin and his supporters wanted to paint on Friday with their howls of triumph at the illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Cherson.
Certainly, the Ukrainian leadership may have also tried to paint their desired picture, but a number of military experts also saw the Battle of Lyman in a decisive phase - and the Ukrainian army at an advantage.
Around 21,000 people once lived in Lyman. No one knows how many there are now, how many have died or fled. Despite its manageable size, the city has immense strategic importance, as a glance at the map reveals. The railway line between the major cities of Kharkiv and Horlivka passes through Lyman, a marshalling yard with dozens of tracks occupies a significant part of its area. The route is not only the entry and exit gate for the industrial centers in the Donbass, it also plays an important role for supplies and troop movements in other regions. Important road links in the region also converge in Lyman, the "Gateway to Donbass".
The city was taken by Russian troops at the end of May - the Ukrainian military had withdrawn at the time. In the course of its offensive in the east of the country, however, Kiev's army has been able to gain considerable ground in recent months and, according to its own statements, had surrounded Lyman after bitter fighting. According to the AFP news agency, the Donetsk occupation chief Denis Puschilin had meanwhile admitted this, but announced that he wanted to hold on to the city with his “last strength”. An undertaking that was evidently becoming more and more impossible by the hour. The US think tank Institute for the Study of War, citing military bloggers loyal to the Kremlin, also spoke of the city being surrounded.
The collapse of Kremlin troops in the small town is another defeat for Russia on the battlefield, believed to be the heaviest so far in the war against Ukraine. In the meantime, their army called on the estimated 5,000 occupiers to surrender via loudspeaker announcements - according to unconfirmed reports, however, the Russian soldiers were initially forbidden by their leadership to surrender.
The defeat is a disaster for the morale of the Russian army, and it weakens Putin militarily and propagandistically. He is thus losing part of the areas that he only declared annexed on Friday - possibly for a long time and with an uncertain future in the region. Strategically, the Ukrainian army has an advantage there. "First of all, he has to manage to build up a front again in order to counterattack," said military expert Carol Masala in the latest edition of the stern podcast "Ukraine – the situation" with a view to the fight for Lyman. "It's a very complex and complicated situation."
Lyman awaits the fate of Balaklija, the Russian nationalist military blog Rybar recently warned. With the recapture of Balaklija, the Ukrainian troops had launched a major offensive in the Kharkiv region, as a result of which Kyiv regained control of almost the entire region and forced the Russian troops into a hasty retreat. Should Ukraine succeed in capturing Lyman, it would open the way for the Ukrainian military to Svatove and Kreminna, and thus deep into the Luhansk region, which Moscow had largely brought under its own control since the summer.
The liberation of Lyman shows that the Russians are not succeeding in stabilizing the front in the north of the Donbass in the long term. Kyiv, on the other hand, could use the momentum and move the front further: The "gate to the Donbass" is open.
Editor's Note: This article has been extensively updated following the news of the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Sources: Ukrainian Military Governor, Radio Free Europe, Institute for the Study of War, pro-Kremlin military blog "Rybar", ntv, DPA and AFP news agencies