Ukraine handed out aid in a battle-scarred town on Tuesday after driving back Russian forces in the northeast and vowed to liberate all of its territory, calling on the West to speed up deliveries of weapons to back the dramatic advance.
Since Moscow abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
Speaking in the central square of Balakliia, a crucial military supply hub taken by Ukrainian forces late last week, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said 150,000 people had been liberated from Russian rule in the area.
Ukrainian flags had been raised and a large crowd gathered to receive bundles of humanitarian aid. A shopping centre had been destroyed but many buildings remained intact, with shops closed and boarded up.
Maria Tymofeeva, 43, said fighting had raged for three days last week before going quiet.
“A lot of people have disappeared,” she said. Asked if there were many collaborators in the town, she said, “I think so, yes”, before adding, with a laugh, “I think they have fled!”
Fighting was continuing elsewhere in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Malyar earlier told Reuters, saying Ukraine’s forces were making good progress because they were highly motivated and their operation well planned.
“The aim is to liberate the Kharkiv region and beyond – all the territories occupied by the Russian Federation,” she said on the road to Balakliia, which lies 74 km (46 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
In Verbivka, a village northwest of Balakliia, Nadia Khvostok, 76, described the traumatic occupation and the arrival of Ukrainian troops.
“(We greeted them) with tears in our eyes. We could not have been happier. My grandchildren spent two and a half months in the cellar. When the corner of the house was torn off, the children began to shudder and stutter,” she said, adding that they and her daughter had left – she did not know where.
The village school, where the Russians were based, was destroyed and trees on the road to the village and a cement factory showed battle scars. Elsewhere were abandoned Russian vehicles, including a military truck with a smashed windscreen. Ukrainians distributed aid in Verbivka on Monday, locals said.
In a video address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the West must speed up deliveries of weapons systems, calling on Ukraine’s allies to “strengthen cooperation to defeat Russian terror”.
His foreign ministry singled out Germany, saying in unusually blunt language that it was disappointing that Berlin had not provided Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles.