Putins forces realised they had just hours to escape Ukraine

Ukrainian military burn Russian flag after liberating Vovchansk

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VLADIMIR PUTIN’S forces are dropping their weapons and scrambling to escape as they face a stunning Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Victory for Ukraine in Kharkiv Oblast seems assured as the country’s armed forces have captured dozens of cities including the key Russian military hub of Izyum, held by Moscow since April. Putin’s forces have left behind weapons and equipment during a retreat in which they are said to only have had “hours” to escape with their lives.

Russian lines of defence have catastrophically collapsed as soldiers scrambled to make a retreat faced with encirclement by Kyiv’s forces.

Mark Savchuk, a Ukrainian Journalist and Coordinator at the Ukrainian Volunteer Journalist Initiative, has contacts in the Ukrainian Armed forces. He told Express.co.uk the Russians had abandoned the key town of Izyum, leaving behind “huge amounts” of equipment in the city.

He said: “They were completely surprised and astonished. So they didn’t expect [the offensive]. We made a big advance – several dozens of kilometres a day – and there was, absolutely, a serious encirclement threat of Izyum.

“Izyum was a critical logistics place for Russia, so they had huge amounts of equipment there. They understood that they literally had hours before we had what is called fire control on the retreating routes, meaning that we would be basically shooting everything [Russian] that will be driving on the road.”

Photographs from the now abandoned frontlines in Kharkiv Oblast show abandoned Russian vehicles including main battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

The speed of the Ukrainian advance left Russian soldiers at Izyum “scared s***” as reports of losses at other key Russian-held settlements reached the logistics hub.

Mr Savchuk said: “They knew what was happening at Balakliya, they knew what was happening at Kupiansk – basically all the Russians are dead there – they knew that if they would stay in Izyum, they would be dead within 24 hours. So they were scared s*** and they basically ran.

“It is impossible to free that amount of territory, more than 2,000km [3,000km at the time of writing] in only two days. You can only do that if the enemy is running away.”

He added: “They were afraid they would be encircled – which would have happened if they stayed and they would all be dead.”

Mr Savchuk said Ukrainian forces were greeted by residents in the liberated towns with “tears in their eyes” as they broke down with the knowledge that Russian occupation had ended.

There have been reports that large numbers of Russian units have now crossed the border back into Russia. The Kremlin has reportedly stopped sending new units into Ukraine there.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence has previously said that forces were regrouping at the Oskil River, around 150km to the east of Ukraine’s second largest city.

However, reports from the frontline have contradicted the Kremlin’s narrative, instead painting the picture of a desperate retreat following a collapse.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has questioned Moscow’s ability to hold the line at the Oskil, possibly pointing to even more Ukrainian gains this week.

On the southern front, near Kherson, Ukraine’s forces were continuing to make “impactful gains”, according to ISW, although it did not mirror the dramatic collapse of Russian forces near Kharkiv.

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The losses seem to be putting domestic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has reportedly left Moscow for his residence in Sochi.

Municipal deputies from 18 cities, including Moscow and St Petersburg, have signed a public statement demanding his resignation.

The statement reads: “We, the municipal deputies of Russia, believe that the actions of President V. V. Putin harm the future of Russia and its citizens.”

Although the battle for Kharkiv has effectively been won by Kyiv, it remains to be seen how far Ukraine’s forces can push a collapsing Russian defence.

The territory, which took Russian forces around six months to conquer, has been recaptured by Ukraine in less than a week – a devastating strategic and morale blow for Moscow.

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